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Briefly: Thousands protest austerity during marches in 56 cities

- - Sunday, October 7, 2012

MADRID — Thousands of people marched Sunday in 56 Spanish cities to protest punishing austerity cuts that they say will only increase unemployment and job insecurity in a country suffering from its second recession in three years and record-high unemployment.

A gathering called by 150 organizations marched in Madrid behind a banner saying, "They want to ruin the country. We have to stop them."

Protesters chanted slogans against cuts and waved placards reading, "Youths without jobs, society with no future." That is a reference to the higher than 50 percent youth unemployment rate. Spain's overall jobless rate is nearly 25 percent, and social unrest is on the rise.

The government has implemented tough austerity measures over its nine months in office.

Ships stuck aground on vulnerable beach

MADRID — Officials said Sunday that they were struggling to free two ships that ran ashore on a stretch of ecologically valuable coastline in eastern Spain.

The cargo ships Sunrise and Celia were run aground by powerful wind on Sept. 28 south of the port city of Valencia.

The ships are carrying 180 metric tons of fuel, and officials were worried about oil and cargo spills. One of the ships is carrying empty containers, and the other massive steel pipes.

The country's maritime authority said large dredgers arrived Sunday to begin trying to clear a channel to sea after other attempts failed.

Just yards inland is Albufera Natural Park, wetlands used by many of Europe's migrating birds. Around the rim of the park, farmers for centuries have cultivated rice prized for use in paella.

RUSSIA

Putin's 60th birthday celebrated with fanfare

MOSCOW — Kremlin officials liked to insist that President Vladimir Putin does not care for big birthday bashes and that he would spend his 60th on Sunday quietly celebrating with close friends and family in his home city, St. Petersburg.

However, the president's supporters didn't appear to have received the memo, so the day was filled with an unprecedented exhibition of Putin-idolatry reminiscent of some of the world's oddest cults of personality.

Much of it, like the fawning, up-close-and-personal profile on Kremlin-friendly television channel NTV, looked like propaganda.

Some of the praise was so extreme as to appear almost like a subtle form of satire on Mr. Putin's heroic representations in state media.

Some Putin opponents used the occasion to poke fun at him.

GREAT BRITAIN

Celebrities sign letter urging crackdown on phone hacking

LONDON | Dozens of Britons who suspect their phones were tapped illegally by journalists have written to Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to consider tighter press regulation.

Celebrities, including actors Hugh Grant and Jude Law, were among 60 people who signed the open letter, which expressed alarm at news reports that Mr. Cameron will reject press regulation proposals from the Leveson inquiry, the investigation into Britain's media ethics.

The letter — which calls for an end to self-regulation by the press — asks for assurances that Mr. Cameron will consider recommendations from the inquiry with an open mind.

The inquiry was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, which exposed widespread illegal behavior across the industry.

Mr. Cameron told the BBC on Sunday that he wants to improve press practices but rejects "heavy-handed state intervention."

FRANCE

Activists call for Europeans to end bias against Gypsies

PARIS — Anti-racism activists, Gypsy musicians and others gathered in European cities to protest violence and discrimination against Roma and to celebrate their culture.

Dozens of people participated in the Roma Pride event Saturday on Paris' Left Bank. Organizer Benjamin Abtan said a march was organized in central Prague, and conferences were held in Bulgaria, Denmark and other cities.

"We are a demanding a Europe-wide fight against racism and discrimination [and] to celebrate the diversity of Gypsy culture, which is an integral part of European culture," he said.

The events were held amid tensions in France over what to do about makeshift camps of Roma in cities nationwide.

Police routinely clear out the camps. Residents in the southern city of Marseille recently burned down a Roma camp after blaming them for burglaries.

GERMANY

Millions of beers later, Oktoberfest shuts off taps

BERLIN — Munich's famed celebration of beer, the Oktoberfest, drew to a close after some 6.4 million visitors downed an estimated 6.9 million liter mugs of Bavarian brew — about 14.6 million pints.

Organizers said they were satisfied with this year's event, which opened Sept. 22 and ended Sunday — although visitor numbers were lower than last year.

Festival director Dieter Reiter said that was because the festival grounds were reduced to accommodate an agricultural fair that takes place every four years, news agency DAPD reported.

In 2011, the Oktoberfest drew some 6.9 million visitors, who downed more than 7 million liters.

The Oktoberfest draws visitors from around the world — many of whom try out traditional Bavarian dress. Mr. Reiter says: "Purely from a visual point of view, there are only Bavarians."

From wire dispatches and staff reports