Italy votes in crucial euro zone election

Updated 24 February 2013
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Italy votes in crucial euro zone election

ROME: Italians voted yesterday in one of the most closely watched and unpredictable elections in years, with pent-up fury over a discredited elite adding to concern it may not produce a government strong enough to lead Italy out of an economic slump.
The election, which concludes today afternoon, is being followed closely by investors; their memories are still fresh of the potentially catastrophic debt crisis that saw Mario Monti, an economics professor and former bureaucrat, summoned to serve as prime minister in place of Silvio Berlusconi 15 months ago.
A weak Italian government could, many fear, prompt a new dip in confidence in the European Union’s single currency.
Opinion polls give the center-left a narrow lead but the result has been thrown completely open by the prospect of a huge protest vote against the painful austerity measures imposed by Monti’s government and deep anger over a never-ending series of corruption scandals. Berlusconi’s center-right has also revived.
“I’m not confident that the government that emerges from the election will be able to solve any of our problems,” said Attilio Bianchetti, a 55-year-old builder in Milan, who voted for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comic and blogger Beppe Grillo.
The 64-year-old Grillo, heavily backed by a frustrated generation of young Italians hit by record unemployment, has been one of the biggest features of the last stage of the campaign, packing rallies in town squares up and down Italy.
“He’s the only real new element in a political landscape where we’ve been seeing the same faces for too long,” said Vincenzo Cannizzaro, 48, in the Sicialian capital Palermo.
Italians started voting at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT). Polling booths will remain open until 10 p.m. on Sunday and open again between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Monday. Exit polls will come out soon after voting ends and official results are expected by early Tuesday.
Snow in northern regions is expected to last into Monday and could discourage some of the 47 million people eligible to vote in Italy to head out to polling stations, though the Interior Ministry has said it is fully prepared for bad weather.
Monti and his wife cast their votes at a polling booth in a Milan school on Sunday morning and center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader opinion polls suggest will have to form a new government, voted in his home town of Piacenza.
A small group of women’s rights demonstrators greeted former prime minister Berlusconi when he voted in Milan. They bared their breasts in protest at the conservative leader, who is on trial at present for having sex with an underage prostitute.
Whichever government emerges from the election will have to tackle reforms needed to address problems that have given Italy one of the most sluggish economies in the developed world for the past two decades.
But the widespread despair over the state of the country, where a series of corruption scandals has highlighted the stark divide between a privileged political elite and millions of ordinary Italians, has left deep scars.
“It’s our fault, Italian citizens. It’s our closed mentality. We’re just not Europeans,” said Luciana Li Mandri, a 37-year-old public servant in Palermo.
“We’re all about getting favors when we study, getting a protected job when we work. That’s the way we are and we can only be represented by people like that as well,” she said.
Final polls published two weeks ago showed center-left leader Bersani with a 5-point lead, but analysts disagree about whether he will be able to form a stable majority that can make the economic reforms they believe Italy needs.
While the center left is still expected to gain control of the lower house, thanks to rules that guarantee a strong majority to whichever party wins the most votes nationally, a much closer battle will be fought for the Senate, which any government also needs to control to be able to pass laws.
The euro zone’s third-largest economy is stuck in deep recession, struggling under a public debt burden second only to Greece in the 17-member currency bloc and with a public weary of more than a year of austerity policies.
Bersani is now thought to be just a few points ahead of media magnate Berlusconi, the four-times prime minister who has promised tax refunds and staged a media blitz in an attempt to win back voters.
Think-tank consultant Mario, 60, who was on his way to vote in Bologna, said Bersani’s Democratic Party was the only serious grouping that could help solve the country’s economic woes.
“They’re not perfect,” he said. “But they’ve got the organization and the union backing that will help them push through the structural reforms.” A strong fightback by Berlusconi, who has promised to repay a widely hated housing tax, the IMU, imposed by Monti last year, saw his support climb during a campaign that relentlessly attacked the “German-centric” austerity policies of the former European Union commissioner.
“I won’t vote for Monti, and I don’t think a lot of people will. He made a huge blunder with IMU,” said 35-year-old hairdresser Marco Morando, preparing to vote in Milan.
But the populist frustration Berlusconi’s campaign tapped into has also benefitted Grillo and many pollsters said his 5-Star Movement, made up of political novices, was challenging the center-right for the position as second political force.
“I’m very worried. There seems to be no way out from a political point of view, or from being able to govern,” said Calogero Giallanza, a 45-year-old musician in Rome, who voted for Bersani’s Democrats.
“There’s bound to be a mess in the Senate because, as far as I can see, the 5-Star Movement is unstoppable.”


Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

  • The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban.
  • The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims.

WASHINGTON: The first big showdown at the US Supreme Court over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies is set for Wednesday when the justices hear a challenge to the lawfulness of his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.
The case represents a test of the limits of presidential power. Trump’s policy, announced in September, blocks entry into the US of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Chad previously was on the list but Trump lifted those restrictions on April 10.
The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban or any other major Trump immigration policy, including his move to rescind protections for young immigrants sometimes called Dreamers brought into the US illegally as children. It has previously acted on Trump requests to undo lower court orders blocking those two policies, siding with him on the travel ban and opposing him on the Dreamers. Trump’s immigration policies — also including actions taken against states and cities that protect illegal immigrants, intensified deportation efforts and limits on legal immigration — have been among his most contentious. 
The conservative-majority Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on Wednesday on the third version of a travel ban policy Trump first sought to implement a week after taking office in January 2017, and issue a ruling by the end of June. 
The lead challenger is the state of Hawaii, which argues the ban violates federal immigration law and the US Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religion over another.
“Right now, the travel ban is keeping families apart. It is degrading our values by subjecting a specific set of people to be denigrated and marginalized,” Hawaii Lt. Governor Doug Chin said in an interview.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 signaled it may lean toward backing Trump when it granted the administration’s request to let the ban go into full effect while legal challenges played out.
In another immigration-related case, the justices on April 17 invalidated a provision in a US law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence. Trump’s administration and the prior Obama administration had defended the provision.
'Politically correct'
Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the US from terrorism by militants. Just before the latest ban was announced, Trump wrote on Twitter that the restrictions “should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly that would not be politically correct!“
The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims, pressing that point in lower courts with some success by citing statements he made as a candidate and as president. As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The Justice Department argues Trump’s statements as a candidate carry no weight because he was not yet president. The policy’s challengers also point to views he has expressed as president, including his retweets in November of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British political figure.
In a court filing last week, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing Trump in court, said those retweets “do not address the meaning” of the travel ban policy.
Francisco cited Trump statements complimentary toward Muslims and Islam, including in a May 2017 speech in Saudi Arabia.
In defending the ban, the administration has pointed to a waiver provision allowing people from targeted countries to seek entry if they meet certain criteria. The State Department said that as of last month 375 waivers to the travel ban had been granted since the policy went into effect on Dec 8.