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Briefly: Europe

- - Sunday, January 29, 2012

RUSSIA

Cars circle central Moscow in anti-Putin protest

MOSCOW — Thousands of cars flying white ribbons or white balloons circled central Moscow on Sunday in a show of protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The cars - ranging from luxury sedans and sporty convertibles to old, exhaust-spewing Soviet models - jammed the inner lanes all along the nearly 10-mile Garden Ring, which has as many as 16 lanes of traffic at its widest points.

More protesters stood along the side of the road waving white ribbons and flags as the vehicles passed, their horns blaring.

White ribbons became an opposition symbol during protests that broke out after a fraud-tainted Dec. 4 parliamentary election won by Mr. Putin's party.

Tens of thousands turned out for two mass protests last month to demand free and fair elections, and protest organizers now are preparing for a third big demonstration on Saturday.

Mr. Putin is running in a March 4 presidential election to reclaim the post he held from 2000 to 2008. He is expected to win, but is under pressure to show he can win fairly.

Sunday's action was aimed at helping to build momentum for the protest movement, and it provided another outlet for the creativity that has been a defining feature of the demonstrations.

Opposition activist Alexei Navalny said the traveling protest action was a "wonderful advertisement" for Saturday's rally.

ITALY

Removing capsized ship could take up to 10 months

GIGLIO — The cruise ship that capsized off Italy's coast will take up to 10 months to remove, officials said Sunday, as rough seas off the Tuscan coast forced the suspension of recovery operations.

Officials called off both the start of operations to remove of 500,000 gallons of fuel and the search for people still missing after determining the Costa Concordia had moved an inch and a half over six hours, coupled with waves of more than 3 feet.

A 17th body, identified as Peruvian crew member Erika Soria Molina, was found Saturday. Sixteen crew and passengers remain listed as missing, with one body recovered from the ship not yet identified.

Officials have virtually ruled out finding anyone alive more than two weeks after the Costa Concordia hit a reef, but were reluctant to give a final death toll for the Jan. 13 disaster.

The crash happened when the captain deviated from his planned route. Hitting the reef created a huge gash that capsized the ship. More than 4,200 people were on board.

SPAIN

Protesters support embattled judge

MADRID — Thousands of protesters, including artists, politicians and union members, marched in downtown Madrid on Sunday in support of a judge who is on trial for allegedly overstepping his jurisdiction by probing atrocities stemming from Spain's civil war.

Baltasar Garzon became an international human rights hero when he indicted former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2003.

But he ran into trouble for trying to investigate deaths and disappearances during and after the 1936-39 war that brought dictator Gen. Francisco Franco to power.

Judge Garzon is on trial in the Supreme Court on three counts of allegedly giving legal instructions that he knew were unlawful.

Spaniards are highly divided over Judge Garzon: He has rock-star status among human rights groups, but conservatives deride him as being more interested in fame than justice.

The marchers Sunday chanted and carried banners that read: "Garzon, friend, Spain is with you."

Retired printer Raul Ruiz, 69, carried a placard with a cartoon showing a judge presenting Judge Garzon's head on a platter to Franco, who ruled from 1939 till his death in 1975.

More than 100,000 noncombatant civilians died or disappeared at the hands of Franco supporters, but crimes that took place during his dictatorship are covered by an amnesty passed in 1977 as Spain strove for a consensus to restore democracy.

"It is unjust to try a judge, whose job is to investigate crimes, for looking into cases simply because they are controversial," singer-songwriter Raul Anoz said.

POLAND

Auschwitz survivor dies on anniversary

WARSAW — Kazimierz Smolen, a 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor who after World War II became director of the memorial site, died Friday on the 67th anniversary of its liberation.

Mr. Smolen died in a hospital in Oswiecim, the southern Polish town where Nazi Germany operated Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II, said Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum.

Friday was the anniversary of the camp's 1945 liberation by Soviet troops. Jan. 27 was designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations in 2005, and was marked with ceremonies across Europe.

Two years after the war ended, Auschwitz-Birkenau became a museum - and Mr. Smolen himself served as its director from 1955-1990. He continued to live in the town after his retirement, often attending the memorial ceremonies marking the camp's liberation.

Mr. Sawicki said soon after Mr. Smolen's death the news was announced to Holocaust survivors who had gathered at the vast site of dilapidated barracks still enclosed in barbed-wire fencing. They fell silent for a minute in his honor.

Mr. Smolen was born on April 19, 1920, in the southern Polish town of Chorzow Stary.

He was involved in the anti-Nazi resistance that was arrested by the Germans in April 1941 and taken to Auschwitz in one of the early mass shipments of prisoners there.

He left the camp on the last transport of prisoners evacuated by the Germans on Jan. 18, 1945, nine days before its liberation. He later attributed his survival to good health and extreme luck.

NORWAY

Ex-captive treated well by Yemeni abductors

OSLO — A Norwegian U.N. employee freed after a nearly two-week-long kidnapping in Yemen said Sunday he had been treated well and that uncertainty had been the worst part of his ordeal.

"This is an experience I would wish on no one. It was traumatic. It was unpredictable. It was not knowing what would happen that was the very worst part," Gert Danielsen, 34, told reporters upon arrival at Oslo's Gardermoen airport. "I didn't suffer."

Mr. Danielsen, a U.N. Development Program employee based in Yemen since February, was snatched from Sanaa on Jan. 14 by armed men aiming to pressure the government to release members of their tribe held for killing four soldiers.

From wire dispatches and staff reports