MADISON, Wis. — Six Wisconsin senators targeted by a recall election fought to keep their jobs Tuesday, trying to beat back Democratic challengers who stoked a backlash against Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker for their efforts to strip public employees of most union rights.
Fueled by millions of dollars from national labor groups, the attempt to remove GOP incumbents could shift control of the Wisconsin Senate to Democrats and provide a new gauge of the public mood less than a year after Republicans made sweeping gains in this state and many others.
Turnout was strong in the morning and steady in the afternoon in communities like Whitefish Bay, Menomonee Falls and Shorewood, where Sen. Alberta Darling was one of six Republicans trying to hold onto her seat.
Tony Spencer, a 36-year-old laid-off carpenter from Shorewood, voted for Darling’s challenger, Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch.
“I’m in a private union, so they haven’t necessarily come after me,” Spencer said. “But everybody should have the right to be in a union. I came out to stop all the union-bashing stuff.”
John Gill, 45, of Menomonee Falls, voted for Darling and questioned the opposition’s anti-GOP rhetoric, which went far beyond collective bargaining.
“This was all supposed to be about the workers’ rights, so to speak. But that has not been brought up one time. It’s all been misleading, the attack ads, things like that,” Gill said. “The one reason they started this recall, they didn’t bring up once.”
Besides the six Republicans on Tuesday’s ballot, two Democratic incumbents face recalls next week. A third Democrat survived a recall attempt last month.
Ukrainian court refuses to let Tymoshenko free
KIEV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian court on Monday rejected lawyers’ requests to free former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail during her abuse of office trial, a case the West has condemned as selective justice.
Thousands of supporters and opponents — some claiming they had been paid to show up — broke a police chain outside the security-heavy hearing for the country’s top opposition leader.
She has criticized the trial as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to bar her from future elections, refusing to rise when addressing the court and routinely insulting the judge. She was arrested Friday for contempt of court and violation of procedures.
She is accused of abusing her powers by signing a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors claim was disadvantageous to Ukraine.
Opposition activists and rights groups say Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president is trying to sideline his political opponents and muzzle critical media in a rollback on freedoms championed by his pro-Western predecessor.
In Washington on Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged Ukraine’s government to review Tymoshenko’s arrest and consider releasing her. “Her arrest raises questions about the application of the rule of law in Ukraine, and continues to contribute to the appearance of politically motivated prosecutions by the government,” said Toner.
The court has banned cameras from the trial, but some media broadcast footage of Tymoshenko in the courtroom apparently made by a cell phone. Wearing her signature braided hairdo, she appeared energetic and determined, thanking the West and Russia for their support.
International pressure on Syria grows
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad came under a new barrage of international pressure Tuesday with the Turkish foreign minister urging him to stop killing protesters and U.S. officials saying the Obama administration is preparing to explicitly demand his departure.
Even as Assad held more than six hours of talks with the visiting Turkish minister, his military unleashed fresh attacks on restive areas, attacks that activists said killed more than 20 people.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he met the Syrian leader for more than six hours in the capital Damascus and discussed “concrete steps” to end the violent crackdown on protesters. Rights groups say about 1,700 people have been killed since March. An aggressive new military offensive that began with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a week ago has killed several hundred.
Speaking to reporters on his return to Turkey, Davutoglu said the talks were cordial but did not say what specific steps they had discussed or whether Assad had agreed to consider them.
“We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people and tensions like those in Hama in the most open and clear way,” Davutoglu said, referring to the Syrian city that has become a flashpoint in the 5-month-old uprising against Assad’s autocratic rule. “The coming days will be important to see if the expectations are being met. We hope that internal peace and calm is achieved and steps for reform are taken.”
Assad rebuffed the pressure to scale back the crackdown. Instead, Syria’s state-run news agency said he told Davutoglu the government will relentlessly fight “terrorist groups” — a term Syrian authorities often use for government opponents even though most of those killed are unarmed, peaceful protesters.