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UEFA will select the host of the 2024 European Championship on Thursday in a vote pitting a safe German bid against a riskier Turkish proposal that offers a chance to explore new frontiers.
Germany, with its a long history of hosting major sporting events, has everything in place for a successful tournament, from stadiums to infrastructure and hotels, UEFA said in an evaluation last week.
Turkey, desperate to host its first ever major sporting event, boasts gleaming new stadiums and a football-mad fanbase.
But its economy is troubled, its transport network is lacking and, perhaps most importantly, the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has presided over an unprecedented crackdown that has prompted global concern over respect for human rights.
Germany has at times been bitterly critical of Turkey under Erdogan.
And, by extraordinary coincidence, the Turkish leader will be in Germany on Thursday for a trip that includes talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, but has never staged the Euro as a unified country: West Germany hosted in 1988.
The bid sees matches spread over 10 stadiums with capacity for a total of 2.78 million spectators — 290,000 more than Turkey — giving Germany a financial edge from potential ticket revenue.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has made clear it is crucial “to make as much money as possible,” from Euro 2024.
But Germany is not just pitching itself as a steady hand that can host without a hitch — it has also voiced confidence that a tournament on its soil could build societal unity.
Arsenal star Mesut Ozil, born in Germany to Turkish parents, accused the German FA (DFB) of racism when he retired from international football in July after the country’s shock ouster from the World Cup.
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Germany’s vision for Euro 2024, according to UEFA, “is rooted in the belief that football can unify society and this tournament can create an enduring legacy for European football.”
The polarising Turkish president has massively developed football infrastructure during his 15 years in power but has always come away empty-handed from bids for Turkey to host major tournaments.
A victory on Thursday would solidify his image as a man who can deliver, but his increasingly authoritarian reputation has likely not helped his cause.
Rights groups have decried the thousands of arrests that followed a failed 2016 coup.
Some have also suggested that awarding the event to the Muslim-majority nation will carry huge symbolism on a continent wrestling with religious tensions.
The vice chairman of the Turkish Football Federation, Servet Yardimci, told AFP it was “high time” his country hosted after four failed bids.
In the contest between old reliable and uncharted waters, UEFA may choose to play it safe.
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Spain: Thousands march against spain’s ruling on separatist leaders
Three other defendants, who were also on trial for their involvement in the October 2017 referendum held in spite of a ban and a short-lived independence declaration, were found guilty only of disobedience and not sentenced to prison.
All defendants were acquitted of the gravest charge, rebellion, but leading separatists were quick to condemn the court’s decision and the jailed men sent out messages of defiance, urging people to take to the streets.
“This sentence is an attack on democracy and the rights of all citizens,” the head of the regional parliament Roger Torrent said. “Today we are all convicted, not just 12 people.”
Former head of Catalonia’s regional government, Carles Puigdemont, said the prison sentences were an “atrocity.”
In Barcelona, three main streets were blocked by protesters holding signs calling for “Freedom for political prisoners” and a crowd chanted “We’ll do it again” – a slogan used by separatist supporters who want to hold another referendum.
Protesters blocked train and metro access to the Barcelona airport and others temporarily halted traffic on the A2 highway, as well as on several regional roads across Catalonia, officials at the road traffic agency said.
The regional train network was interrupted in the separatist stronghold of Girona by people standing on the tracks, wrapped in pro-independence flags.
The Catalan independence drive attracted worldwide attention and triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades and unnerved financial markets.
The ruling and its fallout is likely to color a national election on Nov. 10, Spain’s fourth in four years, and influence the direction taken by the separatist movement..
The jailed separatists said via social media that they would carry on their fight.
“Nine years in prison won’t end my optimism. Catalonia will be independent if we persist. Let us demonstrate without fear, let us move forward determinedly from non-violence to freedom,” said Jordi Sanchez, who was sentenced to nine years in jail. Sanchez was the leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) grassroots movement.
Protests for Catalonia’s independence have been largely peaceful over the past years but police sources have said authorities are prepared for any violence.
The regional head of Catalonia, separatist Quim Torra, called for an amnesty for all 12 leaders and said he would seek an urgent meeting with Spain’s King Felipe VI and acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. However, Torra stopped short of repeating past weeks’ calls for civil disobedience.
Sanchez was quick to rebuff the demand for an amnesty, saying the sentences must be carried out.
“Today’s decision confirms the defeat of a movement that failed to gain internal support and international recognition,” he said in a televised address to the nation. He also called for dialogue, saying now was time for a new chapter over the Catalan issue.
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