POLITICS

AP PHOTOS: An earthquake, a shipwreck and a king’s coronation are among Europe’s views in 2023

Dec 5, 2023, 9:06 PM

"Costaleros", who carry on their backs the portable dais platform which supports a statue of Jesus ...

"Costaleros", who carry on their backs the portable dais platform which supports a statue of Jesus Christ of the "Padre Jesus Nazareno" brotherhood, participate in the holy week procession in Priego de Cordoba, southern Spain, Friday, April 7, 2023. Hundreds of processions take place throughout Spain during the Easter Holy Week. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two men play with a ball in the placid sea; a woman practices yoga where the water meets the hot sand. No one looks back — at the hellscape that starts a few beach-towel lengths away.

The black bones of pine trees and scrub stretch inland as far as the eye reaches, marking the course of a major wildfire on the Greek resort island of Rhodes. At this point near Gennadi village, its climate change-fueled fury was only quenched by the sea. Up to a tenth of the island was affected, and authorities had to evacuate 19,000 tourists from their hotels.

Even for a country used to seeing forests burn every summer, Greece’s deadly blazes during a July heatwave were unusually bad; despite a huge mobilization, the Rhodes fire raged for 11 days.

Climate change left a painful imprint on much of Europe in 2023, as the northern hemisphere sweltered through its hottest summer on record. The United Nations weather agency expects 2023 to also set a global heat record, and warns of a potential future of increasing floods, wildfires, glacier melt and heat waves.

Just weeks after massive wildfires hit southern Europe, rainstorms of rare intensity triggered deadly floods. Nevertheless, increasingly hot and dry weather caused northeastern Spain’s worst-recorded drought, which drove officials in November to tighten water restrictions. The year had started inauspiciously, with high temperatures leaving much of the Alps bereft of snow.

Unsurprisingly, it was also a year of protests over global warming. These included disruptions by climate activists who blocked traffic and glued themselves to things like busy roads and paintings in museums. Such tactics proved unpopular in several countries, with Britain granting its police new powers against similar forms of activism.

In October, London police arrested Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and other protesters trying to block access to an oil and gas conference. Thunberg, who inspired a global youth movement demanding stronger efforts to fight climate change, had previously been twice fined in Sweden for disobeying police during an environmental protest.

But the year’s deadliest disaster struck in Turkey and neighboring Syria. On a cold February night, a magnitude 7.8 quake leveled swathes of buildings, killing at least 50,000 people. The scale of the destruction was largely blamed on poor adherence to building construction rules.

And death continued to stalk Ukraine, where the war started by Russia’s full-scale invasion entered its second year in February. Despite a much-heralded counter-offensive by Western-armed Ukrainian forces, the fighting crepitated into a World War I-style quagmire.

Alarmed by its eastern neighbor Russia’s belligerence, Finland abandoned decades of neutrality to join NATO in April. Months later, Helsinki accused Moscow of retaliating by channeling hundreds of migrants to enter Finland through the frigid 830-mile (1,340-kilometer) border. Neighboring Sweden’s NATO bid has so far been frustrated by fence-sitting from alliance members Turkey and Hungary.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia sought a better life in Europe, with Italy topping migrant arrivals — nearly 153,000 by Dec. 3. Southern European countries remained the main points of entry with 250,000 arrivals, the most since 2016.

According to the U.N., more than 2,600 migrants died trying to reach Europe, mostly by sea from northern Africa and Turkey. In June, a rusty trawler crammed with up to 750 people sank off Greece, as it was heading from Libya to Italy. Just over 100 people survived — all men — while hundreds of women and children are thought to have perished, trapped in the holds.

Britain saw a new record in arrivals, as in November the country’s Supreme Court scotched a controversial plan by the conservative government to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda. Italy, meanwhile, struck a deal in a similar spirit with non-European Union member Albania.

The EU itself is still trying to agree on overhauling its dated asylum rules, after years of hand-wringing and acrimony between countries where migrants arrive and countries where they want to settle.

Migration figured strong in November’s Dutch elections, won by Geert Wilders ′ far-right Party for Freedom. Other noteworthy elections were in Poland, which lurched from right to center, Slovakia, where populists won on a pro-Russian, anti-American platform, and Turkey, whose long-ruling strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan dispatched an opposition alliance.

Turkey also witnessed a rare, for Europe, rally celebrating the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Pro-Palestinian — and pro-Israeli — marches were held in several countries, as Europeans bickered over other peoples’ suffering.

Britain got a new — unelected — head of state when Charles III was crowned in May. He’s the first British monarch with that name since the time of the Stewarts.

Finally, the millions of Europeans who died in 2023 — mostly of heart disease — included former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who made a point of enjoying life, and Czech writer Milan Kundera, who helped countless others enjoy theirs.

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AP PHOTOS: An earthquake, a shipwreck and a king’s coronation are among Europe’s views in 2023