Tag Archives: europe

Study predicts deserts in Spain if global warming continues

Southern Spain will become desert and deciduous forests will vanish from much of the Mediterranean basin unless global warming is reined in sharply, according to a new study.

Researchers used historical data and computer models to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the Mediterranean region, based on the targets for limiting global warming 195 countries agreed to during a summit in France last year.

“The Paris Agreement says it’s necessary to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), if possible 1.5 degrees,” Joel Guiot, a researcher at the National Center of Scientific Research in France who co-wrote the study, said. “That doesn’t seem much to people, but we wanted to see what the difference would be on a sensitive region like the Mediterranean.”

The authors examined the environmental changes the Mediterranean has undergone during the last 10,000 years, using pollen records to gauge the effect that temperatures had on plant life.

They came up with four scenarios pegged to different concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Three of the scenarios are already widely used by scientists to model future climate change, while the fourth was designed to predict what would happen if global warming remains at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.

The fourth scenario is particularly ambitious because average global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. It is, however, the only one under which Mediterranean basin ecosystems would remain within the range of changes seen in the past 10,000 years, the researchers found.

At the other extreme — the scenario in which global warming hits 2 degrees — deserts would expand in Spain, North Africa and the Near East, while vegetation in the region would undergo a significant change from the coasts right up to the mountains, the study states.

The region is considered a hotspot for biodiversity and its landscape also has long been cultivated by humans, making it a particularly interesting case study for the researchers, whose work was published online in the journal Science.

“Climate has always been important there,” said Guiot, noting that several civilizations — from the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans — emerged around the Mediterranean over the past millennia.

While their demise probably resulted from social and political changes, climate conditions may have played a role in the past and could do so again in the future, he said.

Current flows of migrants are being driven largely by political unrest, but prolonged periods of drought could spark mass migrations of people due to climate change, Guiot said.

The researchers acknowledged that their study did not factor in the environmental impact of human activity in the Mediterranean basin. Some areas already are experiencing severe water shortages made worse by intensive agriculture and tree clearance.

“If anything, human action will exacerbate what the study projects, and it could turn out to be too optimistic,” Guiot said.

The Paris climate agreement comes into effect next week.

 

Starbucks, Amazon pay less taxes in Austria than sausage stand

Multinationals like coffee chain Starbucks and online retailer Amazon pay fewer taxes in Austria than one of the country’s tiny sausage stands, the republic’s center-left chancellor lamented in a recent interview published.

Chancellor Christian Kern, head of the Social Democrats and of the centrist coalition government, also criticized internet giants Google and Facebook, saying that if they paid more tax subsidies for print media could increase.

“Every Viennese cafe, every sausage stand pays more tax in Austria than a multinational corporation,” Kern was quoted as saying in an interview with newspaper Der Standard, invoking two potent symbols of the Austrian capital’s food culture.

“That goes for Starbucks, Amazon and other companies,” he said, praising the European Commission’s ruling this week that Apple should pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in taxes plus interest to Ireland because a special scheme to route profits through that country was illegal state aid.

Apple has said it will appeal the ruling, which Chief Executive Tim Cook described as “total political crap.” Google, Facebook and other multinational companies say they follow all tax rules.

Kern criticized EU states with low-tax regimes that have lured multinationals – and come under scrutiny from Brussels.

“What Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg or Malta are doing here lacks solidarity towards the rest of the European economy,” he said.

He stopped short of saying that Facebook and Google would have to pay more tax but underlined their significant sales in Austria, which he estimated at more than 100 million euros each, and their relatively small numbers of employees – a “good dozen” for Google and “allegedly even fewer” for Facebook.

“They massively suck up the advertising volume that comes out of the economy but pay neither corporation tax nor advertising duty in Austria,” said Kern, who became chancellor in May.

($1 = 0.8965 euros)

Across Europe, LGBT migrants face abuse in asylum shelters

Alaa Ammar fled Syria to escape not just civil war but also the threat of persecution as a gay man. Yet when he arrived in The Netherlands last spring, he did not find the safe haven he craved.

He and four other gay travelers had to face newly arrived asylum seekers at a migrant center in the remote northern town of Ter Apel.

“After five minutes, they started looking. After 10 minutes, they started to talk. After one hour, they came to us,” said Ammar. “After three hours, they started fighting with us.”

Across Europe, LGBT migrants say they suffer from verbal, physical and sexual abuse in refugee shelters and some have been forced to move out.

The AP found out about scores of documented cases in The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, with the abuse usually coming from fellow refugees and sometimes security staff and translators.

In Germany, the Lesbian and Gay Federation counted 106 cases of violence against LGBT refugees in the Berlin region from August through the end of January. Most of the cases came from refugee centers and 13 included sexual abuse.

Joerg Steinert, head of the federation in Berlin-Brandenburg, said refugees have been asking gay groups for help all over the country, reluctant to approach police for fear of jeopardizing their asylum applications. Last year, the federation placed 50 people in private homes because the migrant centers were too dangerous.

“These asylum shelters are law-free areas,” he said. “When I come to our office on Monday morning, there’s usually a bunch of refugees waiting outside in the hallway who need help immediately.”

Charities and private shelter operators say they’ve simply been too overwhelmed by the huge influx of migrants to attend to some refugees’ special needs. Masses of people often live in one big hall, without lockable rooms or gender-separated washrooms.

In Berlin, where four hangars at the former Tempelhof airport were turned into a reception center for 2,100 people, four cases of gay abuse were reported.

Maria Antonia Kipp, spokeswoman for private center operator Tamaja, said it’s very difficult to create safe spaces for homosexuals when hundreds of bunk beds are separated only by thin wooden boards.

“When we see a dangerous situation or people tell us about it, we’ll get the people out and transfer them to smaller shelters,” she said.

The German Red Cross said it had a code of conduct banning violence at its shelters.

And the Arbeiterwohlfahrt, or Worker’s Welfare charity group, said it is trying to create safe spaces in new centers but cannot implement the highest standards it would like.

“We’ve been somewhat overrun by reality,” said spokeswoman Mona Finder.

Some critics say it is up to the German government to protect migrants. But last month, a proposal to increase the security of asylum shelters was taken out of a government bill, despite official reprimands from the European Commission that Germany is not implementing EU safety guidelines.

Without the government, the protection of gay migrants has largely fallen to rights groups and local communities.

Earlier this week, gay rights group Schwulenberatung Berlin will open a new home with 122 beds for gay refugees in cooperation with the city of Berlin and another shelter with 10 beds was recently opened in Nuremberg. Berlin has also appointed a counselor as contact person for the registration of LGBT migrants.

Schwulenberatung Berlin’s Mahmoud Hassino said the new Berlin shelter would be a big improvement for LGBT refugees.

“Gay refugees live in constant fear in the big shelters,” said the 40-year-old Syrian refugee.

Hassino came to Germany in 2014 and had to move out of a Berlin shelter himself because of the hostility of fellow refugees. 

“Even if they don’t get abused right away, they’re always afraid their identity will be revealed and then they’ll be targeted,” he said.

The situation for gay refugees is difficult all over Europe. In Spain, for example, two migrants from Cameroon and a third from Morocco were physically abused after their sexual orientation was discovered by others at shelters, according to the Pueblos Unidos nonprofit.

In Sweden, a court sentenced an asylum seeker to five months in prison last summer for making death threats, along with spitting in the face and grabbing the throat of a fellow refugee in a center in Jonkoping. When the victim collapsed onto the floor, the attacker kicked him unconscious. Witnesses and a surveillance video backed the claims.

The motive was the victim’s homosexuality. The attacker was “outraged that Sweden protects homosexuality and all should be killed by slaughtering,” according to court documents.

In Finland, cases of gay harassment and abuse also  have been recorded at refugee centers, according to SETA, a nationwide LGBT group. As a result, some of the centers have separated a secure section for those afraid of sexual harassment.

Other migrants have contacted SETA after fleeing their designated refugee center because of abuse. Earlier this month, a Finnish court gave an asylum seeker a three-and-half-year prison sentence for raping a migrant man at a southern Finnish center.

In Denmark, there have been at least 10 cases of harassment, according to Mads Ted Drud-Jensen from the LGBT Asylum group. He stressed that those figures represent only victims who have been in contact with the group.

“Stepping out of the closet may be hard to do and not everyone is talking to us,” he said.

In the Netherlands, a Dutch human rights group reported earlier this month on regular abuse of gays and lesbians at a large camp that can house up to 3,000 asylum seekers near the city of Nijmegen. The group, The College for Human Rights, said one asylum seeker “has repeatedly found excrement and food in his bed. He is threatened and abused by fellow residents.”

The asylum seeker, whose identity was not disclosed, said he feared for his safety because some other refugees carried knives. The report said he often found notes in his bed such as “kill gay” and “we don’t want gay in the camp.”

When Ammar reported abuse in Ter Apel, he and other gay refugees were put up on the floor of a restaurant for a night. Then they were transferred to another shelter in Apeldoorn.

There too, Ammar said, three fellow refugees attacked him and another man in the communal washroom and slashed them with a knife.

“You could see from their eyes that they wanted to hurt me,” he said.

Again, Ammar was transferred, back to a caravan in Ter Apel. Employees with the COA asylum organization advised them to close the doors and windows, he said, but other asylum seekers “opened the windows and said bad things to us.”

Spokesman Jan-Willem Anholts said COA does not keep records of complaints of gay abuse, but does have “protective” measures for people at risk. Anholts also raised concerns that creating safe houses for specific groups could lead to a type of “segregation” in Dutch society.

It was only after Ammar received asylum and moved in with a private host in Amsterdam a few weeks ago that he started to feel really safe.

“Who wouldn’t like Amsterdam?’ Ammar said as he looked carefully left and right before crossing roads — already seasoned at watching out for speeding bicycles in the Dutch capital. “People don’t care if I’m gay or not. I can scream ‘I’m gay!’ and they will say, ‘Welcome.’” 

German police say New Year’s sexual assaults may be linked to crime ring

Police in Germany said they are investigating whether a string of sexual assaults and thefts during New Year’s celebrations in Cologne is linked to a known criminal network in the nearby city of Duesseldorf.

The assaults last week have prompted outrage in Germany and a fresh debate about immigration, after police said the perpetrators appeared to be of “Arab or North African origin.”

A more nuanced picture of what happened in the New Year’s Eve chaos outside the Cologne train station emerged on Jan. 6.

Police said about 1,000 men gathered there and that smaller groups surrounded individual women, harassed them and stole their belongings. Police do not believe all 1,000 men were involved in the attacks, though they have not said how many were.

The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where Cologne and Duesseldorf are located, told news agency dpa that police have identified three suspects but have not yet arrested anyone.

About 90 people filed criminal complaints, though police have not said how many of them were women who were sexually assaulted. At least one woman said she was raped.

Police said some of the assaults in Cologne appeared similar to incidents that have been reported over the past two years in Duesseldorf, where men have groped women to distract them before stealing their belongings. The two cities are 25 miles apart.

Duesseldorf police were working closely with their counterparts in Cologne to determine whether crimes in the two cities might be connected.

Cologne police have faced criticism for their response to the New Year’s Eve assaults, the scale of which emerged only slowly. On Jan. 1, they issued a statement saying that the celebrations had been “largely peaceful.”

Mayor Henriette Reker said she expected police to analyze what went wrong and “draw consequences from that.”

She didn’t elaborate on what that would entail. Police chief Wolfgang Albers has shrugged off questions about his own future, saying that he will stay in his post.

Reker herself was mocked on social media for saying, when asked about what women can do to protect themselves better: “There is always the possibility of keeping a certain distance, more than an arm’s length” from strangers.

Some of those who criticized her felt that Reker was blaming women for the attacks and lambasted the idea that women could have simply protected themselves by keeping men at arm’s length.

Reker said that she regretted any misunderstanding, but had merely been pointing to existing prevention and counseling programs in response to a journalist’s question.

“The priority is for concrete security to be provided on our streets and squares,” she said in a statement.

Authorities have cautioned that the nationality and residency status of the Cologne suspects is still unknown, since no one has been arrested.

Germany’s top security official stressed that those involved must be punished regardless of where they come from. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that “you cannot draw a general suspicion against refugees from the indications that they were perhaps people who looked North African.”

He added that “a bit of patience is necessary to clear up as completely as possible the structure of the perpetrators and the organizational structures there might have been,” including whether there was any link to similar, smaller-scale incidents on New Year’s Eve in Hamburg.

Tunisian pro-democracy group accepts Nobel Peace Prize

A Tunisian pro-democracy group accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 and set the fight against terrorism and helping Palestinians to achieve self-determination as global priorities.

The National Dialogue Quartet, which won the Peace Prize for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, accepted the award at a ceremony in Oslo held under tight security following the armed attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.

“Today we are most in need of making the fight against terrorism an absolute priority, which means perseverance on coordination and cooperation between all nations to drain its resources,” Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union, one of the quartet honored, said in a speech.

“We need to accelerate the elimination of hot spots all over the world, particularly the resolution of the Palestinian issue and enable the Palestinian people the right to self-determination on their land and build their independent state,” he said.

Security precautions loomed large over the banquets and concerts for hundreds of political, intellectual and business leaders attending the lavish Nobel awards ceremonies held jointly in Oslo and Stockholm.

“Security is higher than it would otherwise have been because of the situation in Europe,” Johan Fredriksen, chief of staff for Oslo police told Reuters, referring to the Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed.

Last year, a demonstrator carrying a Mexican flag disrupted the ceremony at Oslo City Hall when Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi received their Nobel Peace Prizes. He was not a guest but managed to get through the security checkpoints.

The quartet of the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers was formed in the summer of 2013. It won the award for the role it played in the peaceful transition of power in Tunisia in a region struggling with violence and upheaval.

With a new constitution, free elections and a compromise arrangement between Islamist and secular leaders, Tunisia has been held up as a model of how to make the transition to a democracy from dictatorship, said Kaci Kullman Five, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Last year Tunisia held successful legislative and presidential elections but the country has been hit by violence this year. In March, Islamist gunmen killed 21 tourists in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and 38 foreigners were killed in an assault on a Sousse beach hotel in June.

“In this time of terror, the threats against Tunisia and the Tunisian people are indistinguishable from the threats against other countries,” she said in her speech. “I came here to share this extraordinary moment with the whole of Tunisia. I am so proud,” said Haddad Fayssal, a 39-year-old Tunisian engineer from Paris, draped with the red-and-white flag of the North African nation over his shoulders.

“This prize is a powerful message against all types of extremism and terrorism. It is a message that we can all live together,” he told Reuters outside Oslo City Hall, the peace award ceremony’s venue.

In neighboring Sweden, the Nobel Prize winners in literature, chemistry, physics, medicine and economics gathered in Stockholm to receive their prizes from the King of Sweden later in the day.

Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich won the literature prize for her portrayal of the harshness of life in the Soviet Union

In Stockholm, the winners will collect their medals at a concert hall before attending a banquet at the city hall, which will include VIPs like European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Security around the festivities — which has hundreds of royals and prominent politicians as guests — has also been heightened this year after Sweden raised its terror threat level to the highest ever after the Paris attacks. Each of the prizes is worth 8 million Swedish crowns ($949,440).

Prince Charles: Climate change root cause of Syrian war

Britain’s Prince Charles has pointed to the world’s failure to tackle climate change as a root cause of the civil war in Syria, terrorism and the consequent refugee crisis engulfing Europe.

The heir to the British throne is due to give a keynote speech at the opening of a global climate summit in Paris next week where 118 leaders will gather to try to nail down a deal to limit rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The prince said in an interview with Sky News, to be aired on Monday and recorded before the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, that such symptoms were a “classic case of not dealing with the problem”.

“Some of us were saying 20 something years ago that if we didn’t tackle these issues, you would see ever greater conflict over scarce resources and ever greater difficulties over drought, and the accumulating effect of climate change which means that people have to move,” he said.

“And in fact there’s very good evidence indeed that one of the major reasons for this horror in Syria, funnily enough, was a drought that lasted for about five or six years, which meant that huge numbers of people in the end had to leave the land but increasingly they came into the cities.”

Britain’s royal family is expected to stay out of politics, and the 67-year-old prince has faced accusations of meddling in the past when he has spoken out about climate change and sustainability.

Asked in the interview, which Sky said was filmed three weeks ago, whether there was direct link between climate change, conflict and terrorism, Charles said: “Absolutely.”

“We never deal with the underlying root cause which regrettably is what we’re doing to our natural environment,” he said, noting that far greater problems lay ahead if climate change was not addressed immediately.

Even in a time of austerity, the world could not afford not to act, he said.

“I mean the difficulties in 2008 with the financial crash – that was a banking crisis. But we’re now facing a real possibility of nature’s bank going bust,” he said.

Elvis tops British charts for 2nd week with ‘If I Can Dream’

King of rock and roll Elvis Presley topped the British album charts for a second week with his 12th UK Number 1.

Nearly 40 years after his death, Elvis became the male solo artist with the most UK Number 1 albums last week with “If I Can Dream,” a collection of his classics featuring orchestral reworkings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The album notched up over 88,600 combined chart sales, giving him the second-fastest selling album of the year behind Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ “Chasing Yesterday,” the Official Charts Company said.

New entries Little Mix’s “Get Weird” and Ellie Goulding’s “Delirium” took second and third place in the album chart, pushing Rod Stewart’s “Another Country” down from second to fourth place.

There was another trip down memory lane this week with a deluxe reissue of the Beatles’ album “1” entering at number five.

In the singles charts, Adele was top for a third week with Britain’s fastest-selling record of 2015 “Hello,” which also topped Britain’s weekly streaming chart with 4.7 million listens.

Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” was number two in the singles charts, followed by 2014 X Factor runner-up Fleur East with her debut single “Sax”.

Review: George Michael in fine voice on live album

George Michael, “Symphonica” (Islands)

Forget about the health issues and personal problems – George Michael sounds just fine, super in fact, on his first new album in seven years, recorded live during his 2011-2012 “Symphonica” tour in Europe.

Time has not taken a toll on Michael’s voice, which if anything sounds more supple and emotive than during his earlier pop incarnations. Gone is the swagger and blatant “come and get it” sexuality, replaced by a more subtle singer happy to pay homage to Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and other giants as the album unfolds. He strikes a wistful tone, lamenting lost youth, in “John and Elvis Are Dead,” and captures the yearning and loss at the heart of the old standard “Wild Is the Wind.” There’s a jazzy feel, with some swing, to his cover of the timeless “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” and he captures perfectly, without overdoing it, the pathos of the American depression-era classic “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”

Michael avoids a number of traps on this album, which was produced by the late Phil Ramone, who also teamed with the singer in 1999 on “Songs From the Last Century.” Michael deserves credit for moving deftly into big band and orchestral territory without in any way trying to imitate the master, Frank Sinatra, or taking on the vocal tics of the many other artists who have turned to American standards as a mid-career tonic. The style and phrasings are all his own, confident and understated, and the sparse arrangements allow ample room for his hypnotic voice to soar. By instinct, he shies way from self-dramatizing vocal pyrotechnics, letting the melodies and lyrics carry the day.

There is a simple clarity to this approach, but it also means the new release can seem a bit slow in places. The beat is too subdued, the tempo too languid, and the production too lush at times. The collection could use a showstopper, a hint of R&B, a touch of cruelty or anger to set off its mellow tone. It would benefit from a bit more tension, more of a climax toward the end.

But the quality of the singing puts Michael head and shoulders ahead of the other middle-aged and older English rockers looking to the Great American Songbook for inspiration. Michael sounds effortless and free, as if he could do this for decades to come.

Thousands of zoo animals killed in Europe yearly

People around the world were stunned when Copenhagen Zoo killed a healthy 2-year-old giraffe named Marius, butchered its carcass in front of a crowd that included children and then fed it to lions.

But Marius’ fate isn’t unique — thousands of animals are euthanized in European zoos each year for a variety of reasons by zoo managers who say their job is to preserve species, not individual animals. In the U.S., zoos try to avoid killing animals by using contraceptives to make sure they don’t have more offspring than they can house, but that method has also been criticized for disrupting animals’ natural behavior.

HOW OFTEN ARE LARGE MAMMALS KILLED IN ZOOS?

U.S. and European zoological groups refuse to release figures for the total number of animals killed. But David Williams Mitchell, spokesman of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, or EAZA, estimates an average zoo in its 347-member organization annually kills about five large mammals, which adds up to 1,735. The number doesn’t include zoos and animal parks that don’t belong to the association.

Animal rights groups suggest numbers are much higher. The Associated Press contacted 10 zoos in Europe — two refused to comment, four said they never kill any animals unless severely ill and four said they kill between one and 30 animals every year. Two zoos in the U.S. said they only ever kill animals for “quality of life reasons.” 

WHY ARE ANIMALS KILLED?

Zoos euthanize animals because of poor health, old age, lack of space or conservation management reasons. EAZA policy for zoos in Europe suggests euthanasia may be used as a last resort to achieve a balanced population within breeding programs — Marius was killed to prevent inbreeding. But Williams Mitchell insists only “a fraction of 1 percent” of the killings are for such reasons.

The idea is to maintain a group of genetically healthy animals in zoos that can be used to reintroduce the species into the wild.

There’s a philosophical divide between U.S. and European zoos over best practices. The U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums said incidents such as the giraffe killing “do not happen at AZA-accredited zoos.”

Mike McClure, general curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, says his zoo’s policies theoretically allow for killing animals for breeding purposes or lack of housing but it’s not something his zoo has done. Generally, he says, animals are only killed due to old age or ill health.

In Asia, the parent company for the Singapore Zoo said in a statement that “euthanasia of animals is necessary to maintain the health and welfare of the herd, as overcrowding could lead to injuries, stress and disease outbreak. “

“All animals in zoos die at some point and maybe zoos forgot to tell people,” said Jens Sigsgaard, director at the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark, which, like the Copenhagen Zoo, performs open dissections of animals for educational purposes.

WHAT KINDS OF ANIMALS ARE KILLED?

Both endangered species and other animals are killed at zoos.

EAZA says five giraffes have been killed in European zoos since 2005. In addition to Marius, Copenhagen Zoo says it kills 20-30 antelopes, llamas, goats and other animals yearly.

The Jyllands Park Zoo in Denmark said it may have to kill another giraffe soon for similar reasons as in Marius’ case. But a spokesman for Jack Hanna, emeritus director of the Columbus Zoo, said recently that Hanna has raised more than $100,000 in pledges to save that giraffe.

Aalborg Zoo in Denmark kills up to 15 animals a year, including red river hogs, antelopes and capybaras, while Skansen Zoo in Stockholm says it euthanized one bear and one Eurasian lynx last year and Helsinki Zoo killed one Alpine ibex.

Some zoos also raise pigs, goats and cattle to feed their carnivores.

WHAT DO ZOOS DO TO AVOID KILLING ANIMALS?

When animals reproduce, most zoos first try to find another one in their network they can send the offspring to. A German zoo this week said it would send a monkey to the Czech Republic because he’s produced so many offspring that he would soon start having children with his own relatives.

Zoos generally avoid selling the animals on the open market, fearing they will end up in poor conditions. Some European zoos and most zoos in the U.S. choose to use contraceptives or sterilization or separate males and females to avoid breeding more animals than they can house.

Sharon Dewar, spokeswoman for the U.S. animal Population Management Center, says animals are recommended to “breed only when sustainable housing for any offspring can be assured.”

That approach is dismissed as “totally wrong” by Bengt Holst at the Copenhagen Zoo, who says breeding is important for an animal’s well-being.

EAZA’s Williams Mitchell says there is an ongoing discussion and expects Marius’ case to intensify the debate.

Cheryl Asa, director of the AZA Wildlife Contraception Center, says just because contraceptives are used it doesn’t mean an animal will never breed. She also says “most of us are very happy to have our pet dogs and cats spayed and neutered.”

WHAT DO CRITICS SAY?

Animal rights groups say Marius’ case highlights what they believe is the overall problem with zoos. The Captive Animals’ Protection Society says its studies show at least 7,500 animals and perhaps many times more are considered “surplus” at European zoos at any one time. Its director Liz Tyson says the only solution to the problem is not to visit zoos.

Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation, questioned whether the zoos’ breeding programs contribute that much to conservation. He says research by his foundation has shown the majority of species kept in zoos aren’t threatened with extinction in the wild and called for an immediate review of EAZA’s euthanasia policies.

Editor’s note: Associated Press reporters Brett Zongker in Washington, David Rising in Berlin, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Elaine Ganley in Paris, Satish Cheney in Singapore, Jorge Sainz in Madrid and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

Anti-LGBT laws, attitudes still hold sway in many regions

While gay-rights activists celebrate gains in much of the world, their setbacks have been equally far-flung, and often sweeping in scope.

In Russia, a law against “gay propaganda” has left gays and lesbians unsure of what public actions they can take without risking arrest. In India, gay-rights supporters were stunned by a recent high court ruling re-criminalizing gay sex. A newly signed law in Nigeria sets 10-year prison terms for joining or promoting any gay organization, while a pending bill in Uganda would impose life sentences for some types of gay sex.

In such countries, repression of gays is depicted by political leaders as a defense of traditional values. The measures often have broad support from religious leaders and the public, limiting the impact of criticism from outsiders. The upshot: A world likely to be bitterly divided over gay rights for years to come.

Globally, the contrasts are striking. Sixteen countries have legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, including Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and New Zealand as well as 10 European nations, and gay marriage is legal in parts of the United States and Mexico. Yet at least 76 countries retain laws criminalizing gay sex, including five where it’s punishable by death.

Here’s a look at major regions where the gay-rights movement remains embattled or marginalized:

AFRICA:

According to human rights groups, more than two-thirds of African countries outlaw consensual same-sex acts, and discrimination and violence against gays, lesbians and transgender people is commonplace. While many of the laws date to the colonial era, opposition to homosexuality has gained increasing traction as a political tactic over the past two decades.

In 1995, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – who’s still in office – denounced gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs.” He has since been joined by political and religious leaders continent-wide calling for punishments ranging from arrest to decapitation.

Africans promoting anti-gay legislation have expressed alarm about gains made by sexual minorities in the United States and Europe. They say laws such as the one newly signed in Nigeria can serve as a bulwark against Western pressure to enshrine gay rights.

In Liberia, for example, a religious group called the New Citizen Movement has spent the past year collecting signatures urging President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to sign a law banning same-sex marriage – even though, as in Nigeria, there has been no local movement to legalize it.

Rev. Cleopatra Watson, the group’s executive director, said Nigeria’s law was “a prayer answered” that could lead to the passage of similar legislation in other African countries.

From afar, Nigeria’s new law has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups, Western governments, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. However, support for anti-gay legislation presents few domestic political risks for African leaders, with polls suggesting most citizens believe sexual minorities are not entitled to basic civil rights.

In Cameroon, gay men are routinely sentenced to prison for gay sex, and in July a prominent gay activist, Eric Ohena Lembembe, was tortured and killed in an attack.

Gay-rights supporters nonetheless hold out hope for long-term change, suggesting that recent anti-gay rhetoric and laws were a response to an emergence of sustained gay-rights activism.

“If there weren’t an increasingly effective movement, there would not be such a virulent backlash,” said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

ASIA:

The world’s largest continent, Asia is a mixed bag when it comes to gay issues, due to vast differences in culture, religion and history. Though no Asian nation yet allows gay marriage, Thailand has a government-sponsored campaign to attract gay tourists, while China, Vietnam and Taiwan, among others, are increasingly accepting of gays and lesbians.

However, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan outlaw gay sex and, for the moment, so does India, following the recent decision of its high court to revive a ban on gay sex that had been quashed by a lower court in 2009. The high court said it’s up to lawmakers, not judges, to change the law.

Amid the legal wrangling, gays and lesbians have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of India, especially in big cities where gay-pride parades are now a fixture. Many bars have gay nights, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

In most of the country, however, being gay is seen as shameful, and many gays remain closeted.

Gautam Bhan, an Indian gay activist, said he was heartened by the vocal outcry against the high court ruling.

“There may be a backlash and reversals, but the long-term trend is toward openness, freedom and diversity,” he said. “Eventually we will get past this law.”

In majority-Muslim Malaysia, the government has shown no interest in promoting gay rights. Sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison and whipping with a rattan cane, and censorship rules forbid the production and screening of films that might be considered supportive of gay rights.

Earlier this month, the Home Ministry declared a coalition of activist groups illegal, partly because they were deemed to have championed gay rights.

“Malaysia is at the worst end of the scale,” said Grace Poore, a Malaysian who is Asia program coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “They are targeting LGBT people because they are convenient scapegoats.”

In heavily Muslim Indonesia, gay sex is not criminalized, and many young, urban Indonesians are relatively tolerant of homosexuality, but most citizens consider it unacceptable.

“Gay people are still living in fear,” said King Oey, chairman of the country’s main gay-rights group.

CARIBBEAN/LATIN AMERICA:

While the gay-rights movement has achieved major victories in some South American countries, gays remain targets of violence and harassment in parts of Central America and the Caribbean.

In Honduras, activists report a serious problem of violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 90 members of the LGBT community were killed between 2009 and 2012.

Several countries in the English-speaking Caribbean still have colonial-era laws criminalizing sex between men, including Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and Dominica. Gays in Jamaica say they suffer frequent discrimination and abuse, and have little recourse because of widespread anti-gay stigma.

“Homophobia is expected, celebrated, culturally ingrained,” said Dane Lewis, leader of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals and Gays.

Anti-gay sentiment is fueled by some church leaders who accuse gays of flaunting their behavior to “recruit” youngsters, and some stars of Jamaican dancehall music use gay-bashing lyrics to rouse concertgoers.

For gay tourists, the Caribbean is generally safe, but not always. Masked gunmen broke into a vacation cottage in St. Lucia in 2011 and beat three gay Americans while making anti-gay slurs. In 2006, two gay men from New York were assaulted outside a bar in Dutch St. Maarten; one of the victims sustained brain damage.

In Cuba, homosexuality was frowned on in the early decades after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Gays were commonly harassed by police, sent to work camps or dismissed from government jobs. Some fled into exile.

More recently, Castro apologized for the persecution. His niece, Mariela Castro, the daughter of current President Raul Castro, is a leading activist for LGBT rights on the island and has lobbied, so far unsuccessfully, for same-sex marriage.

EASTERN EUROPE:

Russia’s law banning “gay propaganda” has drawn extensive criticism abroad, but seems to be widely accepted at home – perhaps not surprising in a country where a popular news anchorman recently said gays’ hearts should be buried or burned.

The law was signed in June by President Vladimir Putin after sailing through Parliament. It levies heavy fines on anyone convicted of propagandizing “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors.

Putin, in his third term, has been catering to an increasingly conservative constituency, repeating catch-phrases about Russia’s traditional values and condemning the West for trends that threaten to destroy them, including homosexuality.

That language has struck a chord in much of Russia, where the rising influence of the Orthodox Church and widespread ignorance about gays has contributed to acceptance of the propaganda law. Polls indicate that the vast majority of Russians don’t have a single gay acquaintance and oppose expansion of gay rights.

As a result, a growing cadre of public figures shows no hesitation to demonize gays.

State television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov told audiences that gays should be banned from donating blood or organs, saying that they should be burned or buried instead. Kiselyov later was appointed by Putin to head Russia’s largest news agency.

Ivan Okhlobystin, a popular actor and former priest, told his fans that he would gladly “burn them (gays) alive,” calling them “a real danger to my children.”

Gays face various problems in many other parts of Eastern Europe, including the Balkans, a traditionally conservative region where anti-gay violence has been on the rise. Assaults and harassment have coincided with the strengthening of right-wing groups amid persistent economic problems.

Conservative groups in Croatia, backed by the Roman Catholic Church, forced a referendum in December to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman only. Voters overwhelmingly supported the measure, dealing a blow to the liberal government and triggering criticism from the European Union, which had just admitted Croatia.

In Serbia, a gay pride march in 2010 resulted in daylong violence, with more than 100 people injured. Planned marches in subsequent years were canceled because of extremist threats.

Montenegro held its first pride event last year in the coastal town of Budva. Hundreds of police officers fought right-wing extremists who sought to disrupt the gathering, and participants were eventually evacuated in boats.

MIDDLE EAST:

Across most of the Middle East, homosexual relations are taboo, though not all nations choose to prosecute gays and punishments vary.

The pervasiveness of religion in everyday life, along with strict cultural norms, plays a major factor in how Middle Eastern societies view homosexuality. The common Arabic word used to refer to gays is derogatory and its actual meaning translates as “abnormal” or “queer.”

Same-sex relations are punishable by death in the Muslim-majority nations of Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

In Yemen, more than 30 people suspected of being of gay were killed by unidentified assailants in the past two years, many in southern provinces where al-Qaida is active. Iraq also has experienced a surge of killings of gays.

In Egypt, consensual same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited, but other laws – those prohibiting “debauchery” or “shameless public acts” – have been used to imprison gay men.

Public acceptance of gays in Israel and Lebanon is higher than the rest of the region, according to a Pew Research Center study released last year. Lebanon and Israel promote gay tourism, and publisher Nabil Mroueh says his company in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, has translated nearly a dozen English books about homosexuality into Arabic.

Among most Palestinians, homosexuality is generally disdained, and gays tend to be secretive about their social lives. In the West Bank, a 1951 Jordanian law banning homosexual acts remains in effect, as does a ban in Gaza passed by British authorities in 1936.

In Israel, by contrast, gays serve openly in the military and in parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are gay.

Assessing the region as a whole, activists take heart from modest changes – even it’s simply the inclusion of gay rights in broader discussions about human rights in the Middle East.

“The situation doesn’t look good,” said Hossein Alizadeh, a Middle East specialist with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “But that doesn’t mean we stop working.”