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Cash-strapped Rome Starts Claiming Trevi Fountain Coins

A sign of the times in Rome: The city’s cash-strapped administration is eyeing the coins tossed by tourists into the celebrated Trevi Fountain.

Previously swept up and handed over to Catholic charity Caritas, the coins, which can add up to as much as a million euros a year, will now be claimed by Mayor Virginia Raggi for projects to be decided by a city hall working group, according to local media reports Friday.

Legend has it that anyone who lobs a piece of change into the nearly 300-year-old fountain while facing away from the Baroque masterpiece is guaranteed to return to the Eternal City.

The tradition is as strong as ever following the landmark’s restoration two years ago, and thousands flock there almost every day to see where Anita Ekberg took her famous dip in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita.

Collecting coins is not the council’s only revenue stream from Rome’s fountains: This summer, Raggi introduced on-the-spot fines for anyone tempted to emulate Ekberg by cooling off in the municipal waters.

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Top Catalan Lawmaker Leaves Jail After Posting Bail

A top lawmaker from Catalonia has left a prison near Madrid after supporters posted her bail of $175,000.

Carme Forcadell, the former Catalan parliament’s speaker, spent one night in jail as part of Spain’s investigation into the rebellion stemming from Catalonia’s controversial independence drive.

As a condition of Forcadell’s release Friday, a judge withdrew her passport and ordered her to stay in Spain. She also is required to check in at a court in Catalonia each week and to appear before the Supreme Court if summoned.

Forcadell left the prison without speaking to reporters. She later tweeted, “We’re going back home … with an easy conscience for having acted correctly: to guarantee freedom of expression in [the Catalan] Parliament, headquarters of the national sovereignty.”

Forcadell is being investigated along with five other Catalan lawmakers for their role in Catalonia’s parliament declaring independence from Spain on October 27. The other lawmakers were granted $29,000 bail and avoided spending a night in jail.

Acting judge Pablo Llarena said his decision to grant bail was made after they either “renounced all future political activity” or agreed to respect the law, according to a court document.

Forcadell testified Thursday that the independence vote was “declarative and symbolic” — an apparent step to minimize liability if she is charged with disobeying the Constitutional Court.

Forcadell’s spokesman said as Catalan parliamentary speaker she did not “have the freedom to stop a vote” in the chamber on independence.

Within hours of the parliamentary vote, the Madrid government disbanded the Catalonian parliament and removed its president, calling for new elections to be held on December 21.

The independence declaration was annulled this week by Spain’s Constitutional Court, which initially had suspended the declaration last month.

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four of his ministers have fled to Belgium, where they are challenging Spain’s arrest and extradition orders.

Eight of Puigdemont’s former ministers and two activists were jailed while the Spanish court considers possible charges of rebellion against them.

Catalan lawmakers argued they had a mandate to split from Spain after an October 1 referendum in which 90 percent of voters backed succession. However, less than half the electorate took part in the vote, which was denounced as illegal by Madrid.

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In a Corner of a French Field, Memories of US Segregation

In a half-forgotten field in France stands a worn monument to a regiment of U.S. soldiers who faced down racism at home and in their ranks to become World War I’s most decorated unit of African American soldiers.

In the run up to Veterans’ Day on Nov. 11, campaigners say the record of the 371st infantry regiment needs to be fully recognized. One man is trying to have one of the unit’s soldiers finally decorated with the Medal of Honor — the U.S. military’s highest award — a century after his death.

The 371st was largely made up of poor black laborers from segregated South Carolina.

They were drafted into the army by a military machine keen to keep them away from potential front line glory by putting them in support roles. But they soon found themselves in the heat of battle under the command of the French army, which was desperate for manpower in the dying days of the war.

“You had these African Americans in the early 1900s who were subject to Jim Crow, racism was rampant, the military was segregated,” said Gerald Torrence of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), a government agency that serves as guardian of U.S. military memorials and cemeteries overseas.

“These men were victimized in their daily life in the United States, yet they were not victims in their minds,” said Torrence, who is co-author of “Willing Patriots: Men of Color in the First World War.”

Until 2015, when President Barack Obama posthumously decorated a soldier from another regiment, the 371st contained the war’s only African American winner of the Medal of Honor. But now Jeff Gusky, a campaigner, explorer and photographer, has dug through the records and believes it deserves another.

Forgotten warrior

Private Burton Holmes was in his early 20s on Sept. 28, 1918 when he was badly injured during an assault on a ridge in Champagne, eastern France. In the face of heavy machine gun fire, he returned to headquarters to re-arm and fought on, rallying the troops before being killed.

He was recommended for the Medal of Honor but it was downgraded to a lesser award, a decision Gusky believes was down to institutional racism.

An African American comrade of Holmes, Freddie Stowers, was also recommended for the Medal of Honor during the war but his paperwork was misplaced for decades and he was only recognized in 1991, 73 years after his death.

Now veterans’ organizations say the case of Holmes needs to be reviewed too.

“I think the burden is on the present day U.S. Army to tell us why he wouldn’t deserve the Medal of Honor,” Gusky said.

In the tiny village of Ardeuil et Montfauxelles in eastern France (population 86), the residents have not forgotten the sacrifice of the soldiers.

Local man Frank Lesjean treks through a field after work to tend to their memorial, accessible only by a muddy track. He touches up the names of those who died with red paint and looks after the roses around the chipped granite.

“Restoring this monument helps their memory to endure,” he told Reuters. “Without it, they’d be even more forgotten.”

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Convicted Greek Terrorist Gets Prison Furlough; Victims Angry

A convicted Greek anarchist serving life in prison for 11 terrorist assassinations began a two-day furlough Thursday, infuriating the families of his victims.

Friends and supporters hugged Dimitris Koufodinas as he walked out of an Athens prison Thursday for a leave granted under prison rules.

Koufodinas is required to check in with the police station twice a day before he returns to his cell.

Koufodinas was a member of the disbanded November 17 anarchist group, which was responsible for 23 political assassinations over 30 years.

Koufodinas was involved in 11 of those murders.

November 17’s victims included a CIA station chief in Athens and a British defense official.

U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said granting leave to a convicted terrorist dishonors the memories of his victims.

British ambassador Kate Smith said she is “deeply disappointed.”

Greek Conservative lawmaker Dora Bakoyannis, whose politician husband was killed by November 17, told Greece’s Skai television that Koufodinas “isn’t just any terrorist. He was a leader, the ideological guide, the guy who … said after the murder he went to a tavern and celebrated, while my children were crying.”

Koufodinas used his interest in beekeeping and his career as a teacher to hide his membership with November 17.

The group took its name from the date of a 1973 student uprising against the former Greek military dictatorship.

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John Paul I Moves Closer to Sainthood

Pope John Paul I, the shortest-lived pope in modern history, has moved a step closer to sainthood.

The Vatican said Thursday that Pope Francis has recognized the “heroic virtues” of John Paul I, who reigned for only 33 days before his sudden death in 1978.

His death fueled conspiracy theories that the former Cardinal Albino Luciani was murdered as part of a plot involving the Vatican bank, or perhaps committed suicide.

The move comes just days after the publication of a book that debunks the conspiracy theories. Pope Luciani: Chronicle of a Death, written by journalist Stefania Falasca, concludes that the man dubbed the “smiling Pope” died of a heart attack at age 65.

Falasca was involved in his beatification cause and had access to confidential Vatican documents, including the pope’s medical file.

Before John Paul I can be beatified, though, the Vatican still must confirm a miracle attributed to his intercession, and also a second miracle, before he can be made a saint.

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ICC Vows New Libya Charges If Crimes Continue

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court warned Wednesday that the situation in Libya “remains dire” and promised to seek new arrest warrants if serious crimes don’t stop.

Fatou Bensouda also demanded the arrest and transfer of suspects already subject to arrest warrants, including the son of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the former head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency and a Libyan military officer alleged to have been involved in the killing of 33 captives “in cold blood.”

Bensouda told the U.N. Security Council that the security situation in Libya “remains unstable with violent clashes occurring between various factions across Libya.” Widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by different parties to the conflict also have been reported, she said.

Arrests, torture, killings

Bensouda pointed to reports emerging that the bodies of 36 men were found in the town of al-Abyar, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Benghazi.

“The bodies were reportedly handcuffed, showed signs of torture, and displayed bullet wounds to the head,” she said.

Bensouda also cited information that the Libyan National Army commanded by Gen. Khalifa Hifter has allegedly intensified restrictions on access to the city of Derna in recent months, blocking medicine and fuel from entering because of fighting with the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council.

She said hundreds of residents attempting to leave the city had been arrested, and she condemned airstrikes on a residential neighborhood that reportedly killed civilians, including 12 women and children.

Chaos in Libya

The overthrow of Gadhafi in 2011 spawned chaos in Libya. The power and security vacuum left the country a breeding ground for militias and militants including the Islamic State extremist group and al-Qaida affiliates. It has also made Libya a gateway for thousands of migrants from Africa and elsewhere seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

Since 2014, Libya has been split between rival governments and parliaments based in the western and eastern regions, each backed by different militias and tribes. A U.N.-brokered deal in December 2015 to create a unity government failed, though talks have been taking place to form an administration to lead the country ahead of elections.

Bensouda told the council she is gravely concerned at reports of unlawful killings, including the execution of detained people, kidnappings and forced disappearances, torture, prolonged detention without trial, rape “and other ill-treatment of migrants in official and unofficial detention centers.”

She expressed concern at crimes against migrants transiting through Libya and said “such crimes may fall within the jurisdiction of the court.”

“Let me be clear: If serious crimes … continue to be committed in Libya, I will not hesitate to bring new applications for warrants of arrest,” Bensouda said.

Arrest warrants

As for Libyans already the subject of arrest warrants, Bensouda said her office is trying to confirm the current whereabouts of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the late dictator’s son, who is charged in an ICC arrest warrant with murder and persecution for his alleged role in the violent suppression of anti-government protests in 2011.

He was released from custody in June after more than five years in detention as part of a pardon issued by the Libyan parliament based in the country’s eastern region.

The ICC prosecutor also urged that Hifter transfer to the court without delay Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Libyan military officer suspected of being behind a string of killings earlier this year in the city of Benghazi, including the killing of the 33 captives. Bensouda noted that Hifter “has publicly expressed gratitude for the work of the court in relation to Mr. al-Werfalli’s case.”

She said her office is also trying to locate Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, who is wanted for four crimes against humanity and three war crimes, including torture, persecution, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity. The charges involve prisoners held by Libyan security forces during protests against Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.

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EU Pushes Cut in Car Emissions, Boost for Electric Vehicles

The European Commission said Wednesday it wants to cut emissions of carbon dioxide from cars by 30 percent by 2030 and boost the use of electric vehicles by making them cheaper and easier to charge.


The proposal stops short of imposing fixed quotas for emission-free vehicles and is more modest than goals already set out by some EU members. Still, European automakers said the commission’s targets were too drastic, and Germany’s foreign minister warned against the proposal.


Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic insisted that the plan is the most “realistic” compromise between Europe’s ambitions to blaze trails on clean energy and the costs that the continent’s powerful car manufacturers will have to bear to overhaul workforces and production.


Current targets require automakers to achieve the average permitted emission for new models in the European Union of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer for cars, or 147 grams for light commercial vehicles by 2021.


The new proposal foresees a further reduction of 15 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2021 levels.


Car companies that fail to meet those targets face substantial fines of 95 euros ($110) per excess gram of carbon dioxide – per car. Automakers that manage to equip at least 30 percent of their new cars with electric or other low-emission engines by 2030 will be given credits toward their carbon tally.


The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, an industry body, criticized the 2025 target, saying “it does not leave enough time to make the necessary technical and design changes to vehicles, in particular to light commercial vehicles given their longer development and production cycles.”


The lobby group also said the targeted cut of 30 percent by 2030 was “overly challenging” and called for a 20 percent reduction instead, saying that was “achievable at a high, but acceptable, cost.”


“The current proposal is very aggressive when we consider the low and fragmented market penetration of alternatively-powered vehicles across Europe to date,” the group’s secretary general, Erik Jonnaert, said.


Germany’s foreign minister wrote to the commission last week to say the new rules shouldn’t “suffocate” the ability of automakers to innovate.


In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said all European countries benefit from the jobs the auto industry creates and warned that the time frame for emissions cuts “mustn’t be too restrictive.”


The letter caused friction within the German government, which is currently hosting a two-week United Nations meeting on implementing the 2015 Paris climate accord.


“The contents of this letter weren’t coordinated within the Cabinet,” a spokeswoman for Germany’s environment ministry, Friederike Langenbruch, told reporters in Berlin.


Germany is predicted to fall short of its own climate goals, in large part due to continued high emissions from coal-fired electricity plants and vehicle traffic.


The European executive’s plan also includes 800 million euros in funding for the expansion and standardization of electric charging stations Europe-wide.


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France Urges Berlin to Seize ‘Historic Opportunity’ on Europe

Visiting Berlin in the midst of sensitive coalition talks, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire urged Germany to seize a historic window of opportunity to reform Europe, warning that the bloc could succumb to nationalism if they failed.

The visit comes six weeks after a German election forced Chancellor Angela Merkel into negotiations with parties, including the Free Democrats (FDP), that are sceptical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious vision for Europe.

By holding talks with leading members of those parties, including FDP leader Christian Lindner, Le Maire said he hoped to convince members of the next German government to leave the door open to a European deal with France as they hammer out a coalition blueprint for the next four years.

“We are of the view that there is a unique window of opportunity to improve the situation and make the eurozone stronger,” Le Maire said.

“I hope that they will take into account the necessity to

preserve a room of maneuver for negotiation,” he added.

“Because if everything is already decided in the German coalition agreement, what should we negotiate? This is one of the key reasons for my trip to Berlin.”

After nearly a decade of economic and financial crisis, and following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Macron is pushing for a leap forward in European integration, including the creation of a budget for the eurozone and closer cooperation in defense and migration matters.

Merkel has welcomed many of his ideas, but members of her own conservative bloc and the FDP are sceptical, particularly on French plans for the eurozone, fearing Germany will be asked to pay for the policy failures of reform-wary southern states.

Europe faces choice

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Lindner, Le Maire said he believed that the differences could be overcome.

“None of the difficulties are insurmountable. I found a man who is conscious of his political responsibilities, conscious of his historic responsibilities,” he said.

Earlier in a speech to a Franco-German business forum, Le Maire likened the current situation in the eurozone to standing in the middle of a strong-flowing river where the currents were most dangerous.

He said Europe faced a choice: turn back to the shore from where they came, embracing nationalism and isolation, or say “now is the time” and press on to the opposite bank by pursuing closer integration of the eurozone.

“That status quo is not an option,” Le Maire said.

He spelled out four steps for a reform of the 19-nation single currency bloc. In the first, Europe would complete its banking union, capital markets union and harmonise its tax regimes, particularly in the area of corporate taxes.

Second, Europe would bolster its rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and third, it would introduce a budget for the eurozone to fund investments in areas such as transport, energy and artificial intelligence, and help the bloc cope with economic shocks.

In a last step, member states could appoint a finance minister for the eurozone, he said.

Switching between fluent German and French, Le Maire said Franco-German working groups should be created to discuss reform on a “weekly or even daily basis.” He said other countries should be brought into the process, naming Spain and Italy.

In his speech to the business forum, Le Maire urged the bloc to unite in pushing back against powers like China and the United States that he said were determined to shape the world according to their national interests.

German politicians have been sceptical of Macron’s “l’Europe qui protege” (Europe that protects) pledge, fearful of a return to old-fashioned French protectionism.

But Le Maire said Europe should no longer be “naive” in the face of economic challenges from abroad, accusing the Chinese of killing off the European solar panel industry and the Americans of using extra-territorial sanctions to shape global trade rules in their favor.

“Europe needs to stop being scared of its own shadow,” Le Maire said. “Divided we are nothing. Together we are everything.”


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Gang With Suspected Neo-Nazi Links Vows to Force Migrants From Greece

A suspected breakaway faction from Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party says it is recruiting anti-migrant hit squads and has vowed to drive all migrants and refugees out of Greece.

The group, naming itself Crypteia, after a vigilante band of ancient Spartans who terrorized slaves, told a Greek news outlet Tuesday, “We will fight until the last immigrant leaves.  And to that end, we will use force and violence, mercilessly.”

Crypteia claimed responsibility for an attack Friday on the Athens home of an 11-year-old Afghan boy and his family, whose apartment was pelted by rocks and beer bottles.  A note was left that read, “Go back to your village.  Leave.”

The boy, Amir, had drawn local attention days before the attack after having been picked to carry the Greek national flag for his school in a national day parade, only to have the privilege revoked and given a school sign to hold instead.

“I was shouting and calling for help,” Amir’s mother told local reporters.  “The children had woken up, crying; they were very afraid.  The children’s room was full of glass.  A beer bottle was on the bed.  The stones kept coming, one after the other.  I panicked.  I didn’t know what to do,” she added.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras condemned the attack, saying, “Amir, and every child in our country, deserves the right to security and Greek education, without discrimination.”  State prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Europe has seen the emergence of other violent anti-migrant groups and a European Union agency reported in May 33 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans in Europe have been victims of at least one racially-motivated crime in the previous 12 months.

A network of civil rights activists, the European Network against Racism, warned recently that crimes against immigrants were under-reported and said minorities“are not targeted randomly by perpetrators.”

Recent opinion polls suggest anti-migrant sentiment is rising in Greece.  The country has witnessed a surge in the past few months in the number of refugees and migrants entering the country, exacerbating already terrible living conditions in camps on the Greek islands and shelters on the mainland.

Last month, officials said the number of people arriving, across land and sea borders, had more than doubled since June, with authorities estimating that arrivals are now at their highest level since March 2016, with more than 200 men, women and children being registered every day.

Refugee flows had dropped dramatically after a landmark accord was reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016.  In return for aid Ankara agreed to strengthen border patrols along its Aegean coast and turn back smuggler boats.  

How serious a threat Crypteia poses is the subject of debate within Greek political and police circles with some saying that invoking the ancient Spartan band is nothing more than cover for a bunch of crude thugs.  Others are not so sure.

Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the centrist Potami party, complains that Greece is seeing a rise of serious political gang violence across the ideological spectrum, warning, “every day there is a new target.  Gangs intimidate with impunity.”

Analysts say there has been talk within Golden Dawn circles of forming secretive anti-migrant hit squads since several party leaders and lawmakers were arrested following the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by an alleged supporter of the party.  Their trial is ongoing.

Greece has seen a wave of hostility towards the more than 60,000 migrants estimated to be in the country with shelters and refugee squats being targeted.  Civil rights activists say far-right groups have been stoking local grievances and anti-refugee sentiments.  Many attacks and assaults, they say, go unreported

Greece isn’t alone in being buffeted by anti-migrant violence.  German authorities say there were more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters in 2016, amounting to nearly a dozen acts a day of anti-migrant violence, neo-Nazis have been blamed for many of the attacks. 

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German Officials Celebrate Doubled Twitter Character Limit

German bureaucrats — notorious for their ability to create lengthy tongue twisters consisting of one single word — are celebrating the doubling of Twitter’s character limit.

Twitter announced Tuesday it’s increasing the limit for almost all users of the messaging service from 140 to 280 characters, prompting a mix of delighted and despairing reactions.

Waking up to the news Wednesday, Germany’s justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling.

The law is known in German as the Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz.

Munich police, meanwhile, said that “at last” they won’t need abbreviations to tweet about accidents involving forklift drivers, or Niederflurfoerderfahrzeugfuehrer.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert made clear he’ll keep it short, quoting Anton Chekhov: “Brevity is the sister of talent.”