News from France, Spain and Pakistan

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on May 15, 2012

Sunday's march included a demonstrator dressed as Joan of Arc.

FRANCE – Catholics Protest Hollande Social Plans

PARIS | Socialist President-elect François Hollande has yet to take office, but a Catholic group marched through Paris on Sunday to protest his liberal social agenda.

Mr. Hollande, who is to be sworn in on Tuesday, has said he would introduce same-sex marriage, cut government funding to religious schools and legalize euthanasia under certain conditions.

In an early warning that these proposals may face stiff opposition, a group of about 1,500 traditionalist Catholics gathered in central Paris, saying Mr. Hollande’s proposals would be an attack on France’s society.

“We must act to stop the destruction of French civilization and of the French homeland,” said Alain Escada, head of the Civitas religious group and the march’s organizer. “We can’t passively await the change Mr. Hollande and his allies want to impose on us.”

Sunday’s protest could presage nationwide confrontation on social issues, because large political forces, not just religious movements, have rejected Mr. Hollande’s proposals.

The center-right party of departing President Nicolas Sarkozy has said it was opposed to same-sex marriage. And far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is trying to establish herself as the lead opponent to Mr. Hollande in the run-up to legislative elections next month, has said she would resolutely fight it.

Mr. Hollande is unlikely to procrastinate on gay marriage and other social initiatives, his aides say. That is because he has very little room to maneuver on the economic front and so must deliver on other parts of his electoral platform. …

Same-sex marriage has been a longstanding issue in France. The country was among the first to grant same-sex couples legal rights with the creation of the Civil Solidarity Pact, a form of civil union, in 1999. Since then, other European countries, including Belgium, Spain and Portugal, have introduced gay marriage. …

Resistance to Mr. Hollande’s proposals could serve as a catalyst for an alliance between some traditionalist religious groups and Ms. Le Pen’s National Front, political analysts say. …

SPAIN – Thousands protest austerity

Protesters pack the Puerta del Sol plaza in central Madrid, Saturday May 12, 2012.

MADRID | Spaniards angered by increasingly grim economic prospects and unemployment hitting 1 out of every 4 citizens protested in droves Saturday in the nation’s largest cities, marking the one-year anniversary of a spontaneous movement that inspired similar anti-authority demonstrations across the planet.

The country’s Interior Ministry said 72,000 people marched against the government’s tough austerity measures [raising taxes and reducing government spending] in Madrid, Barcelona and six other large cities – but protesters claimed the turnout was much higher.

The epicenter of the protest was in the capital of Madrid, where at least 30,000 people flooded into the central Puerta del Sol plaza, vowing to stay put for three days.  Authorities warned they wouldn’t allow anyone to camp out overnight as protesters did last year, but the demonstrators stayed put after a midnight deadline to leave and more than 2,000 riot police on duty made no immediate effort to force them out. …

At least 22,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city. Marches were also held in Bilbao, Malaga and Seville, and sympathizers from other countries held protests across Europe.

The protests began May 15 last year and drew hundreds of thousands of people calling themselves the Indignant Movement. The demonstrations spread across Spain and Europe as anti-austerity sentiment grew.

Spain is in dire economic straits, prompting fears it may need a bailout similar to those requested by Greece, Ireland and Portugal. It is in recession, and unemployment stands at almost 25 percent – the highest among the 17 countries using the euro.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government has enacted deep spending cuts to reduce the national debt, but many people blame those measures for deepening families’ financial plight.

PAKISTAN – Billboard ads featuring bare-shouldered women covered up

ISLAMABAD | Dozens of billboard advertisements featuring bare-shouldered women have been covered over in the dead of night in the Pakistani city of Karachi with black posters and the slogan: “Sell clothes, not your honor.”

No one knows who is responsible. Claims made by previously unknown women’s groups have been dismissed and many believe they are being used as a front for hard-line religious groups.

“These are not paid advertisements. People are putting up banners over the billboards late at night,” Akhter Sheikh, the head of the Karachi Municipal Corporation’s advertising department told The Express Tribune. “There is nothing we can do about it.”

Spring is the time of year when Pakistan’s fashion houses unveil their new collections – colorful, airy linens that make 104F temperatures more bearable.  Advertising billboards go up with images of glamorous women, many with their heads uncovered, draped in [what hard-line Islamists say is inappropriate clothing]. …  A soap ad featuring Meera, a Pakistani actress, and a billboard featuring Katrina Kaif, a Bollywood star, have been covered up.

Many believe the Jamaat-e-Islami party is behind the censoring.   [The Jamaat-e-Islami is an Islamist political party, advocating for a Theocratic based government system in Pakistan.]  … However, party officials have denied running a [secret] campaign against billboards.

Bina Shah, a writer who lives in the city, said the campaigners could not stop fashion shows being beamed into homes by satellite and so had picked an easy target in a city that did not protecting.  “Karachi people are much more liberal in terms of women’s dress code,” she said.

The blacked-out advertisements have now been taken down.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at WSJ.com on May 14, TheNewsTribune.com on May 13 and London’s Daily Telegraph on May 10.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

2. For FRANCE:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why was the group protesting?
c) Catholics in the U.S., as a group, many times exhibit the most vocal opposition to social policies that go against the teachings of the Bible.  What do you think of their willingness to expose themselves to possible ridicule for their beliefs?

3. For SPAIN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) The reporter states: “Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government has enacted deep spending cuts to reduce the national debt, but many people blame those measures for deepening families’ financial plight.”  What do you think caused the need for such deep spending cuts?
c) Read the “Background” below.  Is Prime Minister Rajoy wrong to cut spending to reduce Spain’s national debt?  Explain your answer.  Ask a parent the same question.

4. For PAKISTAN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Akhter Sheikh, head of Karachi Municipal Corporation’s advertising department said of the covered billboards: “There is nothing we can do about it.”  Do you think if they wanted to, the city could prevent the billboards from being covered over, or at least find out who did it?


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a weekly email with answers.

Background

SPAIN:
Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with the continent’s nearly 3-year-old debt crisis, brought on by too much government spending.  In Spain, the government has raised income and property taxes, cut spending on health care and education and made it easier for companies to fire workers. Coming on the heels of a real estate market implosion, the austerity measures have hit Spaniards hard. Unemployment is now around 25 percent, a record in the 17-nation eurozone, while about half of its young people have no jobs. The country’s sales tax has already been increased to 18 percent and experts don’t rule out another rise. (adapted from Boston.com)

Like other EU nations, Spain’s government borrowed heavily after it switched from the peseta [its currency for more than 100 years] to the euro. Its banks lent freely to businesses, spurring a boom in construction that crashed during the global economic crisis and left new high rises vacant. Huge “white elephant” taxpayer funded projects can be found throughout the countryside, among them airports that see few if any flights. (from USA Today)

What is austerity? (from bbc.co.uk)
Government austerity measures include higher taxes and spending cuts. The aim is to reduce a country’s deficit – the amount it spends every year over and above what it earns. 

What is the problem with austerity?
Austerity measures are hugely unpopular with the public, as they typically result in cuts to public services, higher retirement ages and reduced wages and pensions in public sector (government) jobs.