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SPAIN

Left-wing supporters march to show force

MADRID — Ten of thousands of supporters of Podemos, the left-wing party that is threatening to overhaul Spain’s bipartisan party system, marched in downtown Madrid on Saturday in a show of force at the beginning of a busy year of elections.

The “march for change” was the most important rally organized by Podemos since it emerged as a newcomer in Spanish politics last May, when it won almost 8 percent of the Spanish vote in elections for the European Parliament.

The march Saturday ended in the Puerta del Sol, the Madrid square that became the center of a nationwide, youth-led movement seeking to overhaul Spain’s political system in May 2011. The movement, however, then lost steam. Six months after protesters occupied the square and urged voters to reject traditional parties, the Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy swept to power in late 2011.

Addressing the Madrid crowd Saturday, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos (which means “We Can”), promised that the party would soon oust Rajoy from power. He accused the government of “wanting to humiliate our country with this scam that they call austerity.”

– New York Times

ITALY

Veteran politician elected president

ROME — Italian lawmakers on Saturday elected Sergio Mattarella, a veteran politician and constitutional court judge, as the country’s president, a post that is expected to be redefined during his tenure.

Mattarella was elected by lawmakers from both houses of parliament and regional delegates on the third day of voting, when only a simple majority was needed, instead of the two-thirds required in the early votes. He won 665 votes out of a possible 1,009, signaling wide consensus across the political spectrum.

His election is also a political victory for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had sponsored Mattarella’s candidacy and asked his cantankerous party, and his broad coalition, to back his choice.

Applause erupted among the lawmakers when Mattarella reached the 505 votes he needed to secure his victory.

“First and foremost, my thoughts go to the difficulties and hopes of our citizens; that is enough,” Mattarella said after his election. He will be sworn in Tuesday.

– New York Times

AFGHANISTAN

Gunfire injures several at cartoon protest

KABUL, Afghanistan — Gunfire erupted Saturday at a demonstration in Kabul where several hundred people had gathered to protest the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, witnesses said.

Details were murky, but witnesses said that at least eight people were wounded in a confrontation with the police and that some were believed to have died. Police officials, however, later insisted that they were not aware of any deaths. The protest took place on Jalalabad Road in the city’s east.

The most violent clash occurred at an Afghan customs office, witnesses said.

A Kabul police spokesman, Hashmatullah Stanikzai, said that seven protesters were injured but that he was not aware of any deaths. Stanikzai said that 17 policemen were wounded and that some of the protesters were armed with guns and firing at random.

– New York Times