Portuguese parliament passes gay marriage law

Gay rights advocates in Portugal are toasting the future, after parliament voted to legalise same sex marriage. But it was a bittersweet victory, as Portuguese MPs rejected proposals to allow adoption by gay couples.

It’s seen as a landmark decision nevertheless, which Prime Minister José Socrates said was important to modernising the country.

“This law corresponds in the best way to the spirit and the words of the Constitution,” he said. “With this law we’ll be respecting individual freedoms, promoting the equality of all citizens and eliminating discrimination.”

Despite disappointment on the adoption vote, campaigners are seeing it as a temporary setback. They are determined to build on today’s success, which they say sets a clear example to others.

But not everyone is happy in this staunchly Catholic country, which only legalised abortion two years ago.

Although the legislation now has to be ratified by Portugal’s conservative president, its passage into law is all but enshrined.

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Loud protests at Spanish abortion proposals

euronews-Pro-life campaigners brought the centre of Madrid to a standstill, protesting at plans to ease the law on abortions in Spain. Organisers of the ‘Every Life Counts’ march claimed a million people took part, although police said there were considerably fewer. But the passion was obvious: anti-abortion groups from across the political divide reject controversial proposals to allow terminations up to 14 weeks.

“We oppose making abortion a simple right, which would allow minors to terminate pregnancies without their parents’ consent,” said former Conservative Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar.

The former premier joined other leading conservatives at the march, although the Popular Party itself was not officially represented. The government was quick to criticise.

“What did the Conservatives do during their eight years in power, when there were half a million abortions?” said Equal Rights Minister Bibiana Aido. “What did they do? Nothing! We must defend life in the same way that we must ensure no woman is sent to prison for taking such a difficult decision.”

The bill runs the risk of galvanising opposition to Spain’s minority Socialist government. A poll for the newspaper El Pais said two out of three voters are already unhappy with its handling of the annoyingly-presistent recession.

Wave of worker suicides at France Telecom

A spate of staff suicides has sparked claims that France Telecom is piling too much pressure on its workers.

In Paris, yesterday, a 32-year-old woman jumped from an upstairs office window at a building belonging to the firm’s mobile subsidiary Orange.

Unions say her death brings to 23 the number of France Telecom employees who have taken their own lives in the last 19 months.

Chronic restructuring within the company and work pressure are, they believe, largely to blame.

“People regularly change sites, teams, managers, products they are working on. This means they are losing links with their colleagues. As a result, they feel isolated and fragile. If there is an incident, in their professional or private lives, it may be the thing that makes them that bit more fragile and makes them suffer,” said Cyril Lafarge of the CFDT union.

“We are urging the state, our largest stakeholder at 27 percent, to protect the welfare of the 100,000 people who work for France Telecom,’‘ added CFE-CGC union delegate Sebastien Crozier.

On Wednesday a technician in Troyes, southeast of Paris, stabbed himself at a staff meeting after learning he was going to have to change jobs. He is being treated for stomach wounds in hospital.

Unions say staff need more help to cope with changes since the firm’s partial privatisation.

Hunt underway for stolen Warhol collection

A reward of nearly 700,000 euros is being offered for information leading to the return of a multi-million dollar collection of Andy Warhol silk screen portraits.

Featuring sporting superstars of the 1970s, the ten works were stolen from the Beverley Hills home of a Los Angeles businessman. Police think they will be difficult to sell on.

‘‘Artworks of this significance are very hard to move and so I believe, just based on past experience, these will surface. At some point they will show up. It is just a question of whether it is sooner or later,’‘ said Detective Don Hyrcyk from Los Angeles Police Department.

Portraits of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, football star Pele, figure skater Dorothy Hamill, ice hockey’s Rod Gilbert and trial of the century defendant OJ Simpson were among the pictures taken.

An iconic figure in the pop art movement, Warhol died in 1987.

A right to left crossover for Samoan motorists

The remote South Pacific island of Samoa is to change the side of the road it drives on, from right to left.

The decision has been made by Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, for what he calls, economic reasons.

“The timing is right for us,” he said. “I drove in the middle of London where the cars criss cross all the time and it took me only three minutes and I knew how to manoeuvre.”

He justifies the switch by claiming Samoans can buy their cars cheaper in Australia and New Zealand, where they drive on the left.

A spokeswoman for PASS, the People Against Switching Sides, believes changing the side of the road for motorists is full of risks.

“We have not had a coherent, logical explanation for the switch,” said Paplil Viopapa-Annadale. “I think the economic arguments surely cannot be balanced against the risk to people’s lives”

Hundreds of people have recently demonstrated against the move, some vandalizing “Keep Left” signs.

Samoans have been driving on the right side of the road for about a century, since the short-lived German occupation of the island at the beginning of the 20th century

Al-Hakim’s death fuels political crisis in Iraq

The leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite Muslim political groups and most important religious dynasties has died, adding to political uncertainty in the war-torn country with an election looming next year.

Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim succumbed to cancer at the age of 59. The head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a major partner in the Shi’ite-led government, his demise leaves a vacuum that may prove hard to fill.

On the streets of Baghdad news of Al-Hakim’s death was a cause for concern.

“Actually, it will influence the political process, it will have a great effect. We want the politicians to bridge the gap and be united and work on unifying this dear country,” said one man.

“I do not know what to say, but it will undoubtedly affect the political situation,” said another.

Al-Hakim’s impeccable political and religious credentials made him a pivotal figure among the region’s power brokers. Only this week, the ISCI announced a new, mainly Shi’ite alliance including radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who holds sway over the “stood down” Medhi army.

Significantly, the alliance does not include Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an increasingly aloof and assertive leader now seen as a potential rival to the ISCI rather than a close ally.