- - Sunday, October 21, 2012

BERLIN — A new poll finds that the large majority of Germans back the government’s decision to phase out nuclear power and switch to renewable energies within a decade, despite rising electricity bills.

The poll for German news magazine Focus published Sunday found that 72 percent continue to support the country’s energy switch. Only 24 percent were opposed to the policy.

Germany’s grid operators announced this month that a surcharge on households’ electricity prices financing the expansion of renewable energies will increase by 47 percent starting in January.

A typical family of four will then have to pay about $325 per year on top of their bill.

Polling agency Forsa surveyed 1,000 people this week. Focus did not provide the poll’s margin of error.


Elections held in Galicia, Basque region

MADRID — Two northern regions in Spain held elections for their legislatures Sunday in the first popular test of the central government’s stringent austerity policies since it came to power late last year.

A deepening financial crisis and how best to address the nation’s separatist tensions are the main issues facing political leaders and voters in the turbulent Basque region and in northwestern Galicia.

With 2.7 million voters, Galicia is a traditional stronghold of the ruling Popular Party and the homeland of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, so an upset there would rock the party regionally and nationally.

Spain is in its second recession in three years and has near 25 percent unemployment.

Since being voted to office in general elections in November, Mr. Rajoy has been forced to increase taxes, cut spending and introduce stinging labor reforms in a bid to persuade investors and international authorities that Spain can manage its finances without the need for a full-blown bailout.

Spain’s public finances, however, have been overwhelmed by the cost of rescuing some of its banks and regional governments, many of which have suffered heavy losses in the property sector crash of 2008.

Some observers believe Mr. Rajoy will seek a bailout soon after the elections.


Floods prompt evacuations in shrine town

PARIS — Pilgrims trek by the millions each year to the Roman Catholic shrine in Lourdes, many looking to drink its spring waters reputed for their healing powers.

This time, visitors were fleeing a different kind of water — floodwaters — in the southwestern French town.

Rescue teams helped hundreds of pilgrims escape waterlogged hotels Saturday after heavy rains led the Gave River to overrun its banks — and even wash up into the town’s famed grotto, where many Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

The regional government issued a statement late Saturday saying 427 people had been evacuated from their hotels.

The Red Cross and regional authorities provided food and shelter to the escapees, as authorities warned of forecasts for more rain in the region.

In one televised image, a rescuer waded waist-deep into a hotel lobby with a red boat in tow and teams helped elderly visitors inside for a trip to higher ground.

Others showed a fast-flowing, white-water river rumbling through the town, and the grotto — or cave — was filled with about 1.5 meters of water, under a niche statute of the Virgin Mary.

Visits to the grotto were temporarily suspended. Officials say the town draws about 6 million visitors a year — mainly looking to see the grotto. The shrine has special meaning for the suffering, many of whom believe its spring water can heal and even work miracles.


Royals tie knotin religious ceremony

LUXEMBOURG | Under a canopy of soldiers’ drawn swords as church bells tolled, Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg and Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy emerged smiling Saturday from the tiny duchy’s Notre Dame Cathedral after wrapping up a two-day wedding gala with a religious ceremony.

With a celebratory fireworks show still to come, onlookers and well-wishers lined the superscrubbed streets near the cathedral and roared with joy as the newlyweds looked down from a red velvet-covered palace balcony, and haltingly — but deeply — kissed for the crowd.

The church wedding of Prince Guillaume — the 30-year-old heir to the throne and Luxembourg’s grand duke-to-be — and the Belgian countess drew top-drawer guest list.

It came a day after a civil ceremony at Luxembourg City Hall.


Debate delayed on gay marriage

PARIS — France has delayed debate on a draft law that would authorize gay marriage, as the government grapples with increasingly vocal opposition to the idea.

The legalization of same-sex marriages and adoption was one of the most contentious points in Socialist President Francois Hollande’s election manifesto earlier this year.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault first named Oct. 31 as the date when government ministers would present the law, insisting there would be no backtracking.

But his office said Friday that this date has been pushed back to Nov. 7.

And the debate in Parliament now is expected to last until January.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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