BC-AP--AP Europe News Digest at 0800 GMT, AP
TOP STORIES IN EUROPE SO FAR ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2014:
GENEVA —The Vatican came under blistering criticism Thursday by a U.N. committee for its handling of global priest sex abuse scandal, facing its most intense public grilling ever over allegations that it protected pedophile priests at the expense of victims. Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, acknowledged that the Holy See had been slow to face the crisis but that it was now committed to doing so. He encouraged prosecutors to take action against anyone who obstructs justice, a suggestion that bishops who moved priests from diocese to diocese should be held accountable. By John Heilprin. Sent 130 words; UPCOMING 500 words by 1200 GMT, and will be updated further with developments from the hearing.
LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — The trial in absentia starts for four Hezbollah fighters accused of murdering former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in a huge 2005 suicide truck bombing. By Mike Corder. SENT: 750 words, photos.
BARCELONA, Spain — A European season of separatist fervor kicks off Thursday with Catalan lawmakers voting on whether to seek the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain. The EU will be watching closely as Belgium’s Dutch speakers gear up to push for greater autonomy in May elections, and Scotland prepares to hold its own referendum on breaking away from Britain in the fall. By Alan Clendenning and Emilio Morenatti. SENT: 950 words, photos.
PRAGUE — Czech investigators says they have discovered explosives at the Palestinian embassy complex in Prague where a possibly booby-trapped safe killed the ambassador on Jan. 1. Police had discovered 12 illegal weapons following the explosion at the embassy that killed Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, but this is the first time that authorities say explosives were also found in the in the new complex that includes the embassy and the ambassador’s residence. SENT: 300 words.
NETHERLANDS-WORKING FOR BEER
AMSTERDAM — The men streaming in and out of a small clubhouse in east Amsterdam could almost be construction workers at the end of a hard day, taking off their orange reflective vests and cracking jokes as they suck down a few Heinekens, waiting for their paychecks. But in fact it’s only noon, the men are alcoholics and the beers themselves are the paycheck. Toby Sterling. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.
ROME — The global chemical weapons watchdog says security “challenges” in Syria slowed the transport of raw materials for poison gas and nerve agents to a port for transport and eventual destruction, but additional measures are being taken and the process should pick up in the coming days and weeks. The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, says he is still confident that Syria’s chemical weapons will be destroyed as scheduled by the end of June. SENT: 130 words; Will be updated following hearing scheduled to begin at 1315 GMT.
LONDON — Child abuse investigators in Britain, the United States and Australia have dismantled an organized crime group that live-streamed child sexual abuse to order from the Philippines. Britain’s National Crime Agency says an international investigation broke up the ring, resulting in 29 arrests people in 12 countries who had paid to watch the abuse. By Danica Kirka and Jim Gomez.
GENEVA — The U.N. says Islamic extremists in Syria are committing a “soaring” number of executions in the country’s north that could amount to war crimes. By John Heilprin: SENT: 300 words.
BUSINESS AND FINANCE
MILAN — The European car market has endured its longest slump ever with a sixth straight year of contraction in 2013, but an unexpected surge in December sales may signal recovery, according to industry data released Thursday. EU car sales shrank 1.7 percent last year to 11.8 million, the lowest level since 1995 and a 26 percent contraction from 2007, before the crisis bottomed out the European market, according to the European carmaker’s association. By Colleen Barry. SENT: 540 words, photos.
LONDON — The World Economic Forum says the gap between the rich and the poor is the most likely risk to the global economy in coming years. In its annual risk assessment ahead of next week’s gathering of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum warns of a “lost generation” of young people coming of age in the current decade that could hamper the global economic recovery and stoke tensions in society. By Pan Pylas. SENT 130 words; UPCOMING 400 words by 1400 GMT.
PARIS — Big box retailer Carrefour posted solid gains in 2013, as sales grew in Latin America and Asia, rebounded in Spain and France — two of its biggest markets — and a turnaround plan took firm hold in the fourth quarter of the year. Europe’s largest retailer said Thursday its full-year sales were 84.3 billion euros ($114.8 billion), an increase of 2.5 percent, according to adjusted figures accounting for asset sales and cuts to debt. In a by-the-numbers comparison with 2012, growth fell 1.2 percent. By Lori Hinnant. SENT: 330 words.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s central bank governor is urging the country’s politicians to avoid heated confrontation ahead of European Parliament and local government elections in May, urging them to back a financial recovery effort through its “last mile.” George Provopoulos said the country was on course to exit a six-year recession this year after achieving a primary budget surplus — balanced expenses before interest payments — for the first time since 2002. He made the remarks to a parliamentary finance committee Thursday. SENT: 120 words, photos.
BRUSSELS — A top European Union court has struck down a bid by German manufacturer Steiff seeking trademark protection for its characteristic buttoning of its logo into the ear of its teddy bears and other soft toys. The General Court in Luxembourg ruled Thursday trademark protection can’t be granted because buttoning the label to the soft toy’s ear lacks a “distinctive character” and doesn’t in itself enable average consumers to recognize the product’s origin. SENT: 130 words, photos.
BERLIN — Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone will go on trial on bribery charges in Germany, likely in late April, a court said Thursday. The Munich state court said it decided to send the 83-year-old Ecclestone to trial following his indictment last May. He faces charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust connected with a $45 million payment to a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky. By Geir Moulson. SENT: 400 words.