Thousands brave snow to rally against Serbia populist leader

Thousands of people have braved snow and freezing temperatures in Serbia’s capital to turn up for the fifth week of street protests against populist President Aleksandar Vucic.

The demonstrators marched through downtown Belgrade blowing whistles and booing and jeering loudly as they passed the Serbian presidency building on Saturday. Some carried Serbian flags and banners reading "We are the people" or "Down with the thieves."

The demonstrations started after thugs beat up an opposition leader in November, putting pressure on Vucic.

Critics accuse the president of imposing an autocracy through strict control over the media and promoting hate speech against opponents.

Vucic rejects being labeled as domineering and has suggested he might call an early election this year. A former extreme nationalist, he has held office saying he favors Serbia joining the European Union.

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Italy’s Euroskeptic Agenda Reflects Weakening Public Support for the EU

ROME—Italy’s new government is laying the groundwork to challenge Europe’s financial orthodoxy and immigration rules, setting out a euroskeptic policy agenda in a country where public frustration with the European Union has supplanted once-broad support.

In his inaugural speech to Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his government would push for a change of the rules underpinning the eurozone to spur growth and cut the country’s massive debt, which he said austerity policies helped worsen.

“A new wind” is blowing in Italy, said Mr. Conte, who heads a government supported by the maverick 5 Star Movement and the hard-right League, which have come out strongly against the eurozone’s limits on public spending.

“If populism is listening to the needs of the people, we accept” such a label, he said.

The government on Tuesday won a confidence vote in the Italian Senate, the first of two parliamentary votes of confidence that will fully empower it. The second, in the lower house where the government has a majority, is slated for Wednesday.

The speech sent yields on Italian debt higher and the country’s benchmark stock index lower, a week after global markets were rocked by investor concern over politics in Italy.

In his speech, Mr. Conte stuck to the coalition agreement the two parties struck. That agreement called for bold policy to turn around Italy’s economy—one of the most troubled in Europe—and confront a migration crisis that has brought 750,000 people to its shores since 2011.

The two crises have badly eroded support for the EU in a country that was historically one of its biggest boosters. In 2010, three out of four Italians had a positive view of Europe.

Many Italians blame the EU for unpopular moves taken to shore up the country’s finances and gradually reduce its massive debt, including an increase in the retirement age, cuts to the mostly free health-care system and a reduction in public services.

“We have to go to Brussels, slam our fists on the table, claim our rights and renegotiate the [EU] treaties,” said Giuseppe Dodaro, a 26-year-old medical student from the southern Calabria region who voted for 5 Star.

Most businesses don’t want Italy to leave the euro because of the chaos and uncertainty the move would bring and because any benefits would be short-lived. But many agree with plans by the new government to loosen the rules governing the currency to allow more government spending.

“The [euro] parameters are constricting Italy’s growth,” said Armando De Nigris, whose 130-year-old family-owned balsamic-vinegar business had revenue of about €80 million ($93 million) last year.

EU treaties require member countries to keep their budget deficits below 3% of gross domestic product or face disciplinary proceedings. EU authorities have shown flexibility toward countries that are making an effort but struggling with weak economies. But the bloc insists all members do their best to follow the rules.

Mr. Conte said the government plans to implement “revolutionary measures” that will reboot the Italian economy, including cutting corporate and individual taxes to as low as 15% and enacting huge welfare spending to support Italy’s legion of unemployed and poor.

The large deficits that would likely result from such a program could violate EU deficit rules. Opposition leaders on Tuesday derided the plans as “propaganda” that Italy’s strapped public finances can’t afford.

“How do you do it?,” asked Franco Mirabelli, a center-left senator. “With what resources?”

Italian 10-year government bond yields rose to 2.726% Tuesday afternoon from 2.537% on Monday, snapping a four-session streak of declines, while its two-year notes yielded 0.883%, up from 0.694%. Yields move inversely to prices.

Italy’s main stock benchmark, the FTSE MIB index, fell 1.2%, while the FTSE Italia All-Share Banks index fell 3.4%.

Both governing parties have been harshly critical of Europe’s handling of the migrant crisis. Mr. Conte pledged to push for a review of European rules on immigration, including the introduction of “compulsory and automatic” allocation of migrants from Italy to the rest of Europe.

The bloc has delayed overhauling its contentious system for dealing with the hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum. Some African countries have signed repatriation agreement but it is expensive and cumbersome to people back.

“Europe abandoned us on the immigration crisis,” said Riccardo Fedeli, a 22-year-old graphic designer from the central Italian region of Umbria who voted for the League.

In recent days, Matteo Salvini, the head of the League, has thundered against immigration, accusing Tunisia of sending “convicts” to Italy’s shores. He has promised to deport hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

“Either Europe gives us a hand to secure our country, or we will choose another way,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Mr. Conte also said the government plans to promote the revocation of the EU’s sanctions on Russia. He reaffirmed Italy’s support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. as a key ally.

—Riva Gold
contributed to this article.

Write to Giovanni Legorano at and Eric Sylvers at

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Mother remembers son who died in dirt bike accident in Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va (WAVY) — A mother of a man killed over Memorial Day weekend says her son died doing what he loved.

On Saturday, 36-year-old James Laughlin, of Newport News, died after he was involved in a wreck after 11 p.m., according to Newport News police.

The accident occurred near the intersection of Warwick Boulevard and City Center Boulevard.

"He was a good person, he was a really good person," said his mother Manuela Laughlin. "I know he is in heaven. I know he is there."

Manuela Laughlin, who also lives in Newport News, told 10 On Your Side that her son had recently acquired the dirt bike involved in the accident.

"He loved motorcycles, he loved race cars, he loved everything that was fast," she said. "I just want everybody who rides motorcycles to really think twice before they drive in it."

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Group holds first meeting on reducing Virginia evictions

RICHMOND, Va. — A new coalition has held its first meeting to try to tackle the complicated question of why Virginia is home to five out of the top 10 cities in the country with the highest eviction rates.

The Campaign to Reduce Eviction met Tuesday to begin a campaign to bring down high eviction rates in Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

The coalition was formed last month after data collected by a team headed by Princeton University sociology professor Matthew Desmond was published in The New York Times.

Housing advocates and attorneys who attended the meeting said the high rates are fueled in part by a shrinking supply of affordable housing and by housing that’s not subsidized enough.

The coalition is expected to propose legislation to help tenants fight evictions.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bills host Russell Shepard on free agent visit

The Bills will host receiver Russell Shepard for a free agent visit this week, Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News reports.

The Panthers cut Shepard on Monday after he declined their offer of a pay cut.

Shepard made only 17 receptions for 202 yards and a touchdown last season after signing a three-year, $10 million deal with Carolina.

The Bills need depth behind Kelvin Benjamin, and Shepard has experience.

He spent the first four years of his career with Tampa Bay. In 72 career games, Shepard has 47 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns.

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Notes: Catcher Stephen Vogt suffers career-threatening shoulder injury while on rehab

(Photo: Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports)

No player on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster does a better job of keeping his chin up and looking at the bright side than Stephen Vogt, one of the most upbeat players you ever could meet.

But the veteran catcher fought back tears Tuesday after receiving devastating news about his throwing shoulder that could prevent him from playing again. An MRI revealed he did damage to the rotator cuff, labrum and capsule making a throw to third base while on minor-league rehab assignment Saturday with Class AA Biloxi.

“This is a big blow,” said Vogt, who got choked up talking about the injury. “The biggest emotion is sadness. It’s hard. I’m upset. I worked really hard my whole life and career to help win games. When you can’t help your teammates win games on the field, it’s really hard.

“Obviously, there are big implications here with a second shoulder injury like this that I don’t like to think about but I am thinking about. I felt everything go wrong that could go wrong with a shoulder. I had labrum surgery nine years ago, so there’s a lot of unknowns. I know what that means going forward. It’s definitely weighing on me.”

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Vogt was moved from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day DL while he awaits a second opinion on his shoulder. The Brewers also optioned slump-ridden utility infielder Eric Sogard to Class AAA Colorado and replaced him with utility player Nick Franklin, summoned from Biloxi. Another move was pending on closer Corey Knebel, who reported back from his rehab assignment.

The Brewers announced more tough news on the injury front. Infield prospect Mauricio Dubon, who had put together a 23-game hitting streak at Colorado Springs, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during a rundown Saturday night and will have season-ending surgery.

Vogt, 33, was getting close to rejoining the Brewers after a lengthy rehab period necessitated by a shoulder strain early in spring training. That made the news of the injury even tougher to take for both player and club.

“It’s tough; it’s not good news,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He’ll seek a second opinion and make sure he has all the information that he needs. But he’s looking at something pretty serious, probably.

“Look, it’s been a frustrating run in general, ever since the start of spring training for him, injured just a couple days in. You do all your work to get back and you try to be patient, but you try to push it and so there’s that fine line where that’s what coming back from an injury is for these guys. Obviously, it had felt good and the (upcoming) road trip was probably his target date to be activated.

"Stephen was a guy coming back who could have provided some of that (left-handed-hitting) balance. We miss that part of him. He’s also exceptional in the clubhouse. He just flat out is a leader. He did a tremendous job of that last year, even with a new team."

The Brewers kept Vogt at the end of spring training despite the injury, guaranteeing his $3.065 million salary, because they valued his left-handed bat, leadership skills and veteran presence. He had worked hard over the winter on strengthening his shoulder to improve his biggest flaw, throwing to bases, which made the injury even tougher to absorb.

“It’s a meaningful and significant setback,” general manager David Stearns said. “We were looking forward to having Stephen back. Stephen was a big part of this team through the second half of last year. To have this happen when he was right around the corner from returning to us, he was feeling good, he was ready to go.”

Vogt will stay with the team for a few days, including the upcoming trip to Colorado, before going to Los Angeles to see shoulder specialist Neal ElAttrache.

"I’m happy to be back in Milwaukee with my teammates; it’s making it a lot better," Vogt said.

The Brewers had gotten very little offense out of the catching tandem of Manny Piña and Jett Bandy, who were batting a combined .190 with four homers and seven RBI. In light of the Vogt news, Stearns was asked if he’d look for outside help at the position.

“I don’t think we’ve been shy about saying it’s an area where we need better production,” Steans said. “We have two guys here we feel are capable of providing that production. We’ve seen it in spurts this year but we haven’t seen it consistently. So, it’s something we’re going to continue to discuss and observe.

“I still have confidence in Manny and Jett that they can get it done. If we get to the point where we need to consider outside options, we will.”

Time to reboot: Stearns said there was a mutual agreement for Sogard to accept an option to Colorado Springs to get regular playing time and try to break loose at the plate. He had gone hitless in his last 27 at-bats to drop his batting average to .100 (6 for 60) for the season.

“Eric consented to this optional assignment,” Stearns said. “The goal here is for Eric to get some consistent playing time, for us to get him back to where he was last year, which was a significant contributor to this team. And get him back here.

“Eric wasn’t getting consistent ABs here. He understood why that was happening. He’s looking forward to getting going at Colorado Springs and getting back here.”

Franklin, who played in 53 games (.576 OPS) last year for the Brewers before being sold to the Angels, signed a minor-league deal at the outset of spring camp. He agreed to an assignment to Biloxi with the idea of trying to become more versatile by catching but early injuries derailed that project.

Franklin, 27, continued to play other positions, however, and was contributing on offense with a .288 batting average, .394 OBP, two homers and eight RBI in 20 games.

“He’s here for a left-handed bat as we face a string of righties,” Stearns said. “Nick has experience in the major leagues. We saw him swing the bat very well in spring training. He was swinging the bat well in Double-A despite taking on the challenge of a new position, despite getting banged up a little bit there. I think he earned this opportunity.”

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Maryland hospitals rise in safety assessment

Maryland hospitals are making strides in reducing errors, accidents, injuries and infections, but still need to improve to be as safe as they can be, according to a new safety assessment by Leapfrog Group.

Maryland hospitals are making strides in reducing errors, accidents, injuries and infections, but still need to improve to be as safe as they can be, according to a new safety assessment by Leapfrog Group.

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Newport News in running for HUD grant to reshape Southeast public housing

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Newport News could be awarded up to $30 million by the federal government to implement a redevelopment plan they’ve been working on for nearly two years.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development selected Newport News as a finalist on Monday for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Implementation grant, according to spokeswoman Kim Lee. The money would largely help fund improvements in Ridley Place.

In 2016, the city and the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NNRHA) were awarded $500,000 to come up with a plan “to help revitalize and transform a portion of the Southeast Community.”

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