Barred from Venezuela, European Lawmakers Call for Action

Conservative European lawmakers who were barred from entering Venezuela this weekend are urging the European Union’s top diplomat to suspend contacts with Nicolas Maduro’s government.

 

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, the head of the European Popular Party parliamentary group, is also calling for European sanctions against Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, who had ordered that the lawmakers should be barred on the grounds that they were conspiring against the government.

The five visitors were invited by the opposition-led congress led by Juan Guaido, whom the European Parliament and a majority of the EU’s members recognize as Venezuela’s interim leader.

Speaking to reporters in Madrid on Monday after returning from Caracas, Gonzalez Pons said that the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner, Federica Mogherini, should cancel the International Group of Contact that seeks talks in Venezuela.

 

He also called for the bloc’s members to oust Maduro’s ambassadors, and he vowed to return to Venezuela on Saturday.

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Sex Abuse Survivors to Meet with Vatican Summit Organizers

Organizers of Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse will meet this week with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church’s response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders.

These survivors will not be addressing the summit of church leaders itself. Rather, they will meet Wednesday with the four-member organizing committee to convey their complaints. The larger summit of 180 presidents of bishops conferences from around the world begins Thursday.

Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who is coordinating the survivor meeting, told The Associated Press he hopes for a “constructive and open dialogue” and for summit committee members to convey the survivors’ demand that bishops stop pleading ignorance about abuse. 

“This has to stop,” Cruz said. “Raping a child or a vulnerable person and abusing them has been wrong since the 1st century, the Middle Ages and now.”

Francis called the summit in September after he himself discredited Cruz and other Chilean victims of a notorious predator priest. Francis was subsequently implicated in the cover-up of Theodore McCarrick, the onetime powerful American cardinal who just last week was defrocked for sexually abusing minors as well as adults.

Francis appointed a four-member organizing committee headed by the Vatican’s top sex crimes investigator, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, Mumbai Cardinal Osvald Gracias and the Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission.

They had urged participants to meet with victims before they came to Rome, to both familiarize themselves with victims’ pain and trauma and debunk the widely held idea that clergy sex abuse only happens in some parts of the world, Cupich told AP last week. Survivors will be represented at the summit itself via some video testimony, he said. 

Cruz said the key message for the bishops to take away from the summit is that they must enforce true “zero tolerance” or face the consequences.

“There are enforceable laws in the church to punish not only those who commit the abuse but those who cover it up,” he told AP. “No matter what rank they have in the church, they should pay.” 

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Pence Rebukes Europe for Iran, Venezuela, Russia Links

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has rebuked European allies for their stance on Iran and Venezuela, in a speech Saturday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the conference, the United States brought its largest delegation in decades and called on Europe to apply economic pressure on Iran to give the Iranian people peace and security.

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France to Investigate Anti-Semitic Abuse From ‘Yellow Vest’ Protesters

French prosecutors have opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic comments made by Yellow Vest protesters against a renowned philosopher and intellectual a day earlier.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Sunday an investigation was launched into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” the Associated Press reported. A video broadcast on multiple French news channels shows peple hurling insults such as “dirty Zionists” and “France is ours” at Alain Finkielkraut.

Finkielkraut, 69, told French media that he had approached the protesters, who have held demonstrations in Paris for 14 consecutive Saturdays, out of curiosity. Finkielkraut had initially supported the movement, but called the protests “grotesque” after Saturday’s incident.

French president Emmanuel Macron was among a wide range of politicians who denounced the comments.

“The anti-Semitic insults he has been subjected to are the absolute negation of who we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them,” Macron said on Twitter.

The protesters gained their nickname from the fluorescent vests they wear while marching, which are safety vests French drivers are required to keep in their cars.

Protests around the country began November 17 against a planned fuel tax increase. The demonstrations have transformed into protests largely against  Macron’s liberal economic reform policies. Macron made tax and salary concessions in December, but protests have continued.

Saturday’s insults came amid reports of a stark increase in anti-Jewish offenses, which police estimate are up 74 percent from last year.

Fourteen political parties, including Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche, have called for symbolic gatherings next Tuesday to rally against anti-Semitism.

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In Brexit Limbo, UK Veers Between High Anxiety, Grim Humor

It’s said that history often repeats itself — the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Many Britons feel they are living through both at the same time as their country navigates its way out of the European Union.

The British government awarded a contract to ship in emergency supplies to a company with no ships. It pledged to replace citizens’ burgundy European passports with proudly British blue ones — and gave the contract to a Franco-Dutch company. It promised to forge trade deals with 73 countries by the end of March, but two years later has only a handful in place (including one with the Faroe Islands).

 

Pretty much everyone in the U.K. agrees that the Conservative government’s handling of Brexit has been disastrous. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing this divided nation can agree on.

 

With Britain due to leave the EU in six weeks and still no deal in sight on the terms of its departure, both supporters and opponents of Brexit are in a state of high anxiety.

 

Pro-EU “remainers” lament the looming end of Britons’ right to live and work in 27 other European nations and fear the U.K. is about to crash out of the bloc without even a divorce deal to cushion the blow.

 

Brexiteers worry that their dream of leaving the EU will be dashed by bureaucratic shenanigans that will delay its departure or keep Britain bound to EU regulations forever.

 

“I still think they’ll find a way to curtail it or extend it into infinity,” said “leave” supporter Lucy Harris. “I have a horrible feeling that they’re going to dress it up and label it as something we want, but it isn’t.”

 

It has been more than two and a half years since Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU. Then came many months of tense negotiations to settle on Brexit departure terms and the outline of future relations. At last, the EU and Prime Minister Theresa May’s government struck a deal  then saw it resoundingly rejected last month by Britain’s Parliament, which like the rest of the country has split into pro-Brexit and pro-EU camps.

 

May is now seeking changes to the Brexit deal in hope of getting it through Parliament before March 29. EU leaders say they won’t renegotiate, and accuse Britain of failing to offer a way out of the impasse.

 

May insists she won’t ask the EU to delay Britain’s departure, and has refused to rule out a cliff-edge no-deal Brexit.

 

Meanwhile, Brexit has clogged the gears of Britain’s economic and political life. The economy has stalled, growing by only 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter as business investment registered a fourth straight quarterly decline.

 

Big political decisions have been postponed, as May’s minority Conservative government struggles to get bills through a squabbling and divided Parliament. Major legislation needed to prepare for Brexit has yet to be approved.

 

Britain still does not have a deal on future trade with the EU, and it’s unclear what tariffs or other barriers British firms that do business with Europe will face after March 29.

 

That has left businesses and citizens in an agonizing limbo.

 

Rod McKenzie, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association, a truckers’ lobby group, feels “pure anger” at a government he says has failed to plan, leaving haulers uncertain whether they will be able to travel to EU countries after March 29.

 

McKenzie says truckers were told they will need Europe-issued permits to drive through EU countries if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal. Of more than 11,000 who applied, only 984 — less than 10 percent — have been granted the papers.

 

“It will put people out of business,” McKenzie said. “It’s been an absolutely disastrous process for our industry, which keeps Britain supplied with, essentially, everything.”

 

He’s not alone in raising the specter of shortages; both the government and British businesses have been stockpiling key goods in case of a no-deal Brexit.

 

Still, some Brexit-backers, such as former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, relish the prospect of a clean break even if it brings short-term pain.

 

“Perhaps it is time for a Brexit recipe book, like those comforting wartime rationing ones full of bright ideas for dull things,” Moore wrote in The Spectator, a conservative magazine. He added that he and his neighbors were willing to “set out in our little ships to Dunkirk or wherever and bring back luscious black-market lettuces and French beans, oranges and lemons.”

 

Brexit supporters often turn to nostalgic evocations of World War II and Britain’s “finest hour,” to the annoyance of pro-Europeans.

 

The imagery reached a peak of absurdity during a recent BBC news report on Brexit, when the anchor announced that “Theresa May says she intends to go back to Brussels to renegotiate her Brexit deal,” as the screen cut to black-and-white footage of World War II British Spitfires going into battle.

 

The BBC quickly said the startling juxtaposition was a mistake: The footage was intended for an item about a new Battle of Britain museum. Skeptics saw it as evidence of the broadcaster’s bias, though they disagreed on whether the BBC was biased in favor of Brexit or against it.

 

Some pro-Europeans have hit back against Brexit with despairing humor.

 

Four friends have started plastering billboards in London with 20-foot-by-10-foot (6-meter-by-3-meter) images of pro-Brexit politicians’ past tweets, to expose what the group sees as their hypocrisy.

 

Highlights included former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage’s vow that “if Brexit is a disaster, I will go and live abroad,” and ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s pledge to “make a titanic success” of Brexit.

 

The friends dubbed the campaign “Led by Donkeys,” after the description of British soldiers in World War I as “lions led by donkeys.” The billboards are now going nationwide, after a crowdfunding campaign raised almost 150,000 pounds ($193,000).

 

“It was a cry of pain, genuine pain, at the chaos in this country and the lies that brought us here,” said a member of the group, a London charity worker who spoke on condition of anonymity because their initial guerrilla posters could be considered illegal.

 

A similar feeling of alienation reigns across the Brexit divide in the “leave” camp.

 

After the referendum, Harris, a 28-year-old classically trained singer, founded a group called Leavers of London so Brexiteers could socialize without facing opprobrium from neighbors and colleagues who don’t share their views. It has grown into Leavers of Britain, with branches across the country.

 

Harris said members “feel like in their workplaces or their personal lives, they’re not accepted for their democratic vote. They’re seen as bad people.”

 

“I’m really surprised I still have to do this,” she said. But she thinks Britain’s EU divide is as wide as it ever was.

 

“There can’t be reconciliation until Brexit is done,” she said.

 

Whenever that is.

 

 

 

 

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UK Airline Ceases Operations, Blames Brexit

British regional airline Flybmi has gone into administration and canceled all flights immediately, the company said in a statement Saturday, blaming Brexit uncertainty as one of the reasons for its collapse. 

A spokesperson for British Midland Regional Ltd. said the company had made the decision because of increased fuel and carbon costs and of uncertainty arising from Britain’s plans to leave the European Union on March 29. 

The airline, based in the English East Midlands, operates 17 planes flying to 25 European cities. It employs 376 people in Britain, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. 

“We sincerely regret that this course of action has become the only option open to us, but the challenges, particularly those created by Brexit, have proven to be insurmountable,” the company said. 

Spikes in fuel and carbon costs had undermined efforts to move the airline into profit. 

It added: “Current trading and future prospects have also been seriously affected by the uncertainty created by the Brexit process, which has led to our inability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe and lack of confidence around bmi’s ability to continue flying between destinations in Europe.” 

The airline, which said it carried 522,000 passengers on 29,000 flights in 2018, advised customers with bookings to contact their bank or payment card issuer to obtain refunds. 

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China Rebuffs Germany’s Call for US Missile Deal With Russia 

China on Saturday rejected German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s appeal to join a Cold War-era arms control treaty that the United States accuses Russia of breaching, saying it would place unfair limits on the Chinese military. 

Fearing a nuclear arms race between China, Russia and the United States after the collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the United States is withdrawing from, Merkel made her call for a global treaty. 

“Disarmament is something that concerns us all and we would of course be glad if such talks were held not just between the United States, Europe and Russia but also with China,” Merkel told the Munich Security Conference. 

Russia and the United States are the signatories to the 1987 INF Treaty that bans land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (300-3,400 miles) and which U.S. President Donald Trump started the six-month withdrawal from this month, blaming Russian violations. 

Moscow denies any wrongdoing, but the United States and its NATO allies want Russia to destroy its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missile system, which Washington says could allow Russia to strike Europe with almost no warning. 

Merkel’s suggestion of involving China in a negotiation is seen by European NATO diplomats as a potential way out of the impasse because a new treaty could address American concerns about a growing military threat from China and Russia. 

China ‘doesn’t pose a threat’

But China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who spoke on a panel in Munich, said that Chinese missiles were defensive. 

“China develops its capabilities strictly according to its defensive needs and doesn’t pose a threat to anybody else. So we are opposed to the multilateralization of the INF,” he said. 

China’s stated ambition is to modernize its People’s Liberation Army by 2035, improve its air force and push into new technologies including very high-speed cruise missiles and artificial intelligence. 

Its defense budget grew nearly 6 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to the London-based International Institute for Security Studies (IISS). 

Retired Chinese Gen. Yao Yunzhu told delegates a new arms control agreement would work only if it included sea- and air-launched missiles, as well as land, because most of China’s military technology is ground-based and the country would not want to put itself at a disadvantage. 

Cheaper to build, more mobile and easier to hide, ground-based rocket launchers are an attractive option to China as it develops its armed forces, experts say, whereas the United States operates more costly sea-based systems to comply with the INF. 

“China is traditionally a land power and the Chinese military is a ground force,” Yao said. 

“If China is to enter into these kinds of negotiations, I think it ought to be more comprehensive to include not only land-based but also air- and sea-based strike capabilities … and that would be hugely complicated,” she said. 

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Far-right Activists Stage Torchlit March in Bulgarian Capital

More than 2,000 far-right activists from several European countries staged a torchlit procession through Sofia on Saturday to honor a Bulgarian pro-Nazi general, despite opposition from the Balkan country’s political parties and Jewish groups.

The procession, known as the Lukov March after Hristo Lukov, who led the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions in the 1930s and early 1940s, went ahead after a court overturned the Sofia municipality’s ban for a second consecutive year. 

Participants, mostly young men in dark clothing, many bearing swastikas and making the Nazi salute, laid wreaths at the former home of Lukov amid heavy police security. Some activists had come from Germany, Sweden, Hungary and elsewhere. 

“General Lukov was a valiant militant officer — a [World War I] hero who has inspired the revival of the Bulgarian army,” said Zvezdomir Andonov, one of the march organizers. 

Ahead of the march, hundreds of people took part in a counterprotest under the slogan “No Nazis on the streets.” 

Police reported no incidents during the protest or the march. 

The World Jewish Congress, other Jewish groups and Bulgaria’s political parties had called for the march to be suspended. 

“It is absolutely abhorrent that in 2019 in Europe, the very place in which the Nazis attempted to wipe out the entire population of Jewish men, women and children, far-rightists continue to parade unfettered through the streets with 

swastikas, SS symbols, and messages of hatred for Jews and other minorities,” said WJC Executive Vice President Robert Singer. 

Lukov’s Union, active from 1932 to 1944, espoused anti-Semitism, anti-communism and a one-party state. 

Lukov served as Bulgaria’s minister of war from 1935 to 1938, fostering close ties with senior Nazi officials in Germany. He also pushed through a law modeled on the 1935 Nuremberg Laws in Germany that stripped Jews of their civic rights. 

Lukov was assassinated by Communist partisans in 1943.

Bulgaria fought in World War II on Germany’s side, though the government of King Boris III refused Adolf Hitler’s demand to deport the country’s Jews to death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland and elsewhere. This meant most of Bulgaria’s Jews did not perish in the Holocaust and survived the war. 

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Bombshell Book Alleges Vatican Gay Subculture, Hypocrisy

A gay French writer has lifted the lid on what he calls one of the world’s largest gay communities — the Vatican, estimating that most of its prelates are homosexually inclined and attributing much of the current crisis in the Catholic Church to an internecine war among them.

In the explosive book, In the Closet of the Vatican, author Frederic Martel describes a gay subculture at the Vatican and calls out the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops and cardinals who in public denounce homosexuality but in private lead double lives.

Aside from the subject matter, the book is astonishing for the access Martel had to the inner sanctum of the Holy See. Martel writes that he spent four years researching it in 30 countries, including weeks at a time living inside the Vatican walls. He says the doors were opened by a key Vatican gatekeeper and friend of Pope Francis who was the subject of the pontiff’s famous remark about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”

Martel says he conducted nearly 1,500 in-person interviews with 41 cardinals, 52 bishops or monsignors, and 45 Vatican and foreign ambassadors, many of whom are quoted at length and in on-the-record interviews that he says were recorded. Martel said he was assisted by 80 researchers, translators, fixers and local journalists, as well as a team of 15 lawyers. The 555-page book is being published simultaneously in eight languages in 20 countries, many bearing the title Sodom.

The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Culture of secrecy

Martel appears to want to bolster Francis’ efforts at reforming the Vatican by discrediting his biggest critics and removing the secrecy and scandal that surrounds homosexuality in the church. Church doctrine holds that gays are to be treated with respect and dignity, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

“Francis knows that he has to move on the church’s stance, and that he will only be able to do this at the cost of a ruthless battle against all those who use sexual morality and homophobia to conceal their own hypocrisies and double lives,” Martel writes.

But the book’s Feb. 21 publication date coincides with the start of Francis’ summit of church leaders on preventing the sexual abuse of minors, a crisis that is undermining his papacy. The book isn’t about abuse, but the timing of its release could fuel the narrative, embraced by conservatives and rejected by the gay community, that the abuse scandal has been caused by homosexuals in the priesthood.

Martel is quick to separate the two issues. But he echoes the analysis of the late abuse researcher and psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe that the hidden sex lives of priests has created a culture of secrecy that allowed the abuse of minors to flourish. According to that argument, since many prelates in positions of authority have their own hidden sexual skeletons, they have no interest in denouncing the criminal pedophiles in their midst lest their own secrets be revealed.

‘Gossip and innuendo’

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of Building a Bridge about how the Catholic Church should reach out more to the LGBT community, said that based on the excerpts he had read, Martel’s book “makes a convincing case that in the Vatican many priests bishops and even cardinals are gay, and that some of them are sexually active.”

But Martin added that the book’s sarcastic tone belies its fatal flaw. “His extensive research is buried under so much gossip and innuendo that it makes it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.”

“There are many gay priests, bishops and cardinals in ministry today in the church,” Martin said. “But most of them are, like their straight counterparts, remaining faithful to a life of chastity and celibacy.”

In the course of his research, Martel said he came to several conclusions about the reality of the Holy See that he calls the “rules,” chief among them that the more obviously gay the priest, bishop or cardinal, the more vehement his anti-gay rhetoric.

Martel says his aim is not to “out” living prelates, though he makes some strong insinuations about those who are “in the parish,” a euphemism he learns is code for gay clergy.

Martin said Martel “traffics in some of the worst gay stereotypes” by using sarcastic and derogatory terms, such as when he writes of Francis’ plight: “Francis is said to be ‘among the wolves.’ It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.”

Martel moves from one scandal to another — from the current one over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington to the priest-friendly gay migrant prostitute scene near Rome’s train station. He traces the reasons behind Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and the cover-up of the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, the pedophile Rev. Marcial Maciel. In each, Martel parses the scandal through the lens of the gay-friendly or homophobic prelates he says were involved.

Gay rights advocate

Equal parts investigative journalism and salacious gossip, Martel paints a picture of an institution almost at war with itself, rife with rumor and with leaders struggling to rationalize their own sexual appetites and orientations with official church teachings that require chastity and its unofficial tradition of hostility toward gays.

“Never, perhaps, have the appearances of an institution been so deceptive,” Martel writes. “Equally deceptive are the pronouncements about celibacy and the vows of chastity that conceal a completely different reality.”

Martel is not a household name in France, but is known in the French LGBT community as an advocate for gay rights. Those familiar with his work view it as rigorous, notably his 90-minute weekly show on public radio station France Culture called Soft Power. Recent episodes include investigations into global digital investment and the U.S.-China trade war.

As a French government adviser in the 1990s, he played a prominent role in legislation allowing civil unions, which not only allowed gay couples to formalize their relationships and share assets, but also proved hugely popular among heterosexual French couples increasingly skeptical of marriage.

His nonfiction books include a treatise on homosexuality in France over the past 50 years called The Pink and the Black (a sendup of Stendhal’s classic The Red and the Black), as well as an investigation of the internet industry and a study of culture in the United States.

Martel attributes the high percentage of gays in the clergy to the fact that up until the homosexual liberation of the 1970s, gay Catholic men had few options. “So these pariahs became initiates and made a strength of a weakness,” he writes. That analysis helps explain the dramatic fall in vocations in recent decades, as gay Catholic men now have other options, not least to live their lives openly, even in marriage.

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Spain to Get 3rd Government in 4 Years as PM Calls for Early Election

Spain will elect its third government in less than four years after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s fragile socialist government acknowledged Friday its support had evaporated and called an early general election.

Sanchez’s eight-month-old administration met its end after failing to get parliament’s approval for its 2019 budget proposal earlier this week, adding to the political uncertainty that has dogged Spain in recent years.

“Between doing nothing and continuing without a budget, or giving the chance for Spaniards to speak, Spain should continue looking ahead,” Sanchez said in a televised appearance from the Moncloa Palace, the seat of government, after an urgent Cabinet meeting.

The ballot will take place on April 28. It is expected to highlight the increasingly fragmented political landscape that has denied the European Union country a stable government in recent elections.

The 46-year-old prime minister ousted his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy last June, when he won a no-confidence vote triggered by a damaging corruption conviction affecting Rajoy’s Popular Party.

But the simple majority of Socialists, anti-austerity parties and regional nationalists that united against Rajoy crumbled in the past week after Sanchez broke off talks with the Catalan separatists over their demands for the independence of their prosperous northeastern region.

Sanchez saw the Catalan separatists join opposition lawmakers to vote down his spending plans, including social problems he had hoped would boost his party’s popularity.

Sanchez had the shortest term in power for any prime minister since Spain transitioned to democracy four decades ago.

Without mentioning Catalonia directly, Sanchez said he remained committed to dialogue with the country’s regions as long as their demands fell “within the constitution and the law,” which don’t allow a region to secede. He blamed the conservatives for not supporting his Catalan negotiations.

Popular Party leader Pablo Casado celebrated what he called the “defeat” of the Socialists, attacking Sanchez for yielding to some of the Catalan separatists’ demands.

“We will be deciding [in this election] if Spain wants to remain as a hostage of the parties that want to destroy it,” or welcome the leadership of the conservatives, Casado said.

Catalonia’s regional government spokeswoman, Elsa Artadi, retorted that “Spain will be ungovernable as long as it doesn’t confront the Catalan problem.”

Opinion polls indicate the April vote isn’t likely to produce a clear winner, a shift from the traditional bipartisan results that dominated Spanish politics for decades.

Although Sanchez’s Socialists appear to be ahead, their two main opponents — the Popular Party and the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) — could repeat their recent coalition in the southern Andalusia region, where they unseated the Socialists with the help of the far-right Vox party.

Vox last year scored the far-right’s first significant gain in post-dictatorship Spain, and surveys predict it could grab seats in the national parliament for the first time.

Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, vowed to use the election to “reconquer” the future, a term that refers back to how Spanish Catholic kings defeated Muslim rulers in 15th-century Spain.

Meanwhile, the Socialists are unlikely to be able to form a new government even if they come to a coalition deal with the anti-establishment Podemos [We Can] party, so a third partner will likely be needed.

Sanchez’s options are limited. On the right, a deal with the Citizens party seemed off the table, as its leader Albert Rivera has vetoed any possible agreement with a Socialist party led by Sanchez himself.

And the prospect of Catalan nationalists joining any ensuing coalition is remote, both in the light of the recent failed talks and the ongoing trial of a dozen Catalan politicians and activists for their roles in an independence bid two years ago.

“The Socialists don’t want an election marked by Catalonia because the issue creates internal division, but right-wing parties will use it as a weapon,” said Antonio Barroso of the Teneo consulting firm.

He said polls have erred in recent elections and that clever campaigning could swing the vote significantly.

“The only certainty … is that fragmentation is Spain’s new political reality,” he said.

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