The National Today

'If we stop, the world stops': Women's Day walkout paralyzes Spain

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

People shout slogans during an International Women's Day protest in Madrid's Puerta del Sol Square on Thursday. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Millions in Spain marked International Women's Day with a general strike, staying away from their salaried jobs and boycotting unpaid work in the home
  • Former FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known as "Timochenko," has abandoned his unpopular quest to become Colombia's president
  • Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is visiting the U.K. amid duelling propaganda efforts and street protests over Saudi Arabia's bloody intervention in Yemen's civil war

Women's strike brings Spain to a standstill

Spanish women are marking International Women's Day by doing nothing for 24 hours.

Millions participatedin a general women's strike today, staying away from their salaried jobs and boycotting unpaid work at home.

Women bang pots and pans in Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid on Thursday during a nationwide feminist strike. (Susana Vera/Reuters)
"Today we claim a society free of oppression, exploitation and sexual violence," reads the manifesto for the country's first feminist strike. "We call for rebellion and the struggle against the alliance between patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be docile, submissive and silent."

Tens of thousands marched in Madrid, Barcelona and almost 200 other locations across the country under the movement's slogan: "If we stop, the world stops."

The threat was not an idle one.

A woman in Madrid waves a flag on Thursday during a protest calling attention to the wage gap and gender violence. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)
The strike, backed by a coalition of 10 unions, caused the cancellation of more than 300 trains, many inter-city flights, and disrupted service on Madrid's metro. In Barcelona, traffic was snarled as women erected roadblocks and occupied the streets.

Classes were cancelled as demonstrations sprang up outside schools and universities. Many workplaces were all but empty.

And statues all over Spain were dressed in aprons and decorated with mops, buckets and toilet brushes.

People gather in Madrid's Cibeles Square on Thursday. At the height of the strike, more than 5 million people are estimated to have left their jobs. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)
At its height — a two-hour window in the afternoon when union members across Spain walked off the job in solidarity — some 5.3 million workers were missing in action.

The strike, aimed at ending the country's enduring "macho culture," was endorsed by the woman mayors of Barcelona and Madrid, Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena.

At least two female cabinet ministers "worked to rule" today — in defiance of their boss, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. (The prime minister originally rejected the strike idea as "too confrontational," but Rajoy was pictured wearing its symbol — a purple ribbon — on his lapel today.)

A woman walks past graffiti reading 'Strike 24 hours' alongside a female gender symbol in Bilbao, Spain. (Vincent West/Reuters)
Spanish film star Penelope Cruz participated, leaving her spouse Javier Bardem to take care of their two kids.

A poll published in the paper El Pais found 82 per cent support for the strike, and that 80 per cent of respondents agreed that "machismo" still pervades Spanish culture.

Women take part in a mobile protest on bicycles Thursday in Madrid. (Susana Vera/Reuters)
A study released this week pegged the pay gap between women and men in Spain at 12.7 per cent. Another report calculated that women do an average of an additional 26.5 hours of unpaid work in the home each week, compared to just 14 hours for men.

In 2017, 99 Spanish women were killed by their partners. The year before saw 28,281 officially registered complaints of domestic violence, according to the national statistics office.

FARC's Timochenko bows out of presidential race

A former FARC guerrilla leader has abandoned his unpopular quest to become Colombia's president, pulling out of the campaign due to health problems.

Rodrigo Londoño, better known by his nom de guerre "Timochenko," had a heart attack last week and underwent surgery yesterday.

Colombia's FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, also known as Timochenko, speaks during a news conference in Bogota on Feb. 28. He dropped out of Colombia's presidential race Thursday due to health problems. (Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)
The portly, 59-year-old former head comandante of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has a history of health problems. He suffered another cardiac arrest while negotiating a peace deal in 2015, and a small stroke last year.

Londoño's pullout, which came via a statement from another former FARC commander at a news conference in Bogota this morning, means that the terror-group-turned-political-party will not field a candidate in the country's May presidential election. But it will have 74 former soldiers standing for office this Sunday in the national votes for Colombia's upper and lower houses.

A girl holds a campaign banner supporting FARC leader Rodrigo Londono in January in a neighbourhood south of Bogota. Next to her is a flag bearing FARC's new red rose symbol, which replaces the original crossed rifles. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)
FARC, which has kept its Spanish acronym but altered its name to the Revolutionary Armed Common Force and replaced its old crossed rifle logo with a bright red rose, is guaranteed five seats in each house under the terms of the 2016 peace deal, which brought an almost-end to five decades of armed conflict.

But Londoño's campaign seemed unlikely to end in victory, with recent polls suggesting he had 1 per cent support among voters, well within the margin of error.

Gustavo Petro, another former rebel who was once a commander of the M-19 group, leads the race to succeed President Juan Manuel Santos.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, left, and Timochenko shake hands after signing a peace agreement in Havana on June 23, 2016. (Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)
FARC had basically suspended its presidential campaign even before Londoño's health issues, after a series of disastrous rallies where counter-protestors pelted the ex-guerilla with eggs and tomatoes.

The group accuses the country's far-right of orchestrating the attacks, and has suggested that the Colombian government was complicit in its refusal to beef up security.

But FARC, which has a long history of kidnappings, killings and atrocities, is not fondly remembered by the general public. The 50 years of fighting in Colombia killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 7 million.

The group says it may throw its support behind one of the other left-wing candidates for president.

It's not clear if anyone would be willing to accept such an endorsement.

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Dollars, diplomacy and death

London is the top European destination for citizens of Saudi Arabia.

In the first nine months of 2017, 138,000 of them travelled to the U.K.'s capital, spending an estimated $1.4 billion, to the delight of shopkeepers, hoteliers and restauranteurs.

But the British welcome mat is looking a little frayed this week as Mohammed bin Salman, the country's Crown Prince makes his first official visit.

Britain's Prince Charles, right, stands with his son Prince William and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman, before their dinner at Clarence House in London on Wednesday. (Yui Mok/Associated Press)
The 32-year-old heir to the throne kicked off his three-day tour yesterday, amid duelling propaganda efforts and street protests over Saudi Arabia's bloody intervention in Yemen's civil war.

The United Nations says that more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since the fighting began in 2015 — many as a direct result of Saudi airstrikes — while three million have been displaced from their homes. And 80 per cent of the country's population — 22 million people — are in need of humanitarian aid.

A British-owned, Riyadh-registered consulting firm has splashed out a considerable amount of money — $1.8 million, according to one report — on a #WelcomeSaudiCrownPrince campaign, purchasing full-page newspaper advertisements and billboards. Several iconic, black London cabs were wrapped with the Prince's smiling picture, and there were even trucks with giant electronic screens to carry the message around the city.

The positioning was supposed to be progressive: "He is empowering Saudi Arabian women," read one ad in The Guardian, with a picture of young lady, wearing a headscarf and abaya, behind the wheel of a car.

But protesters were selling their own version of the man behind Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 modernization campaign.

Guerilla transit riders hung banners branding bin Salman as a "war criminal" from the top of double-decker buses. Save the Children invoked the destruction in Yemen by placing a statue of a rubble-surrounded child outside the Palace of Westminster.

Yemenis remove salvageable items from a heavily damaged house in the aftermath of a reported air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in the capital Sanaa on Thursday. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)
Avaaz, an international online activist network, had someone dressed as the Crown Prince unload bloody mock body bags from a van emblazoned with the message "stop the slaughter, start peace talks," while a Theresa May figure stood by and counted money.

Back in Saudi Arabia, the official coverage of the visit's kickoff focused on the pomp — a welcoming ceremony at the airport with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and the traditional grip-and-grin photo with the Prime Minister outside 10 Downing St.

Two protesters wear masks depicting Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman while unloading mock body bags from a van outside the Palace of Westminster in London on Wednesday. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)
There were no mentions of the protests. Or a clash between May and Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons, where the Labour leader accused the British government of "colluding in war crimes" in Yemen and demanded an immediate halt to arms exports to the Kingdom.

Last November, the Independent newspaper published an investigation that tallied a 500 per cent increase in U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the Yemeni war began, with a total price tag of $8.2 billion.

May did raise the issue of human rights in her meeting with the Crown Prince yesterday, urging him to allow aid groups full-access to Yemen and seek a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets bin Salman outside 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)
Although the focus of the visit is more about money. Plans call for the inking of $116 billion worth of trade and investment pacts over the next couple of days, including a deal that will see the U.K. government help modernize Saudi Arabia's school system.   

Change is undeniably happening in the Kingdom under the watch of the Prince, with the loosening of rules around entertainment and how men and women interact in public, along with massive investments in resorts, high-tech business parks and other economic diversification projects.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, right, accompanies the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at a private meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Yui Mok/Getty Images)
But not all of it is positive.

One of the groups protesting in London this week is Reprieve, an anti-death-penalty group.

By its count, execution rates in the Kingdom have doubled since bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince last June. And with more than 30 death sentences carried out so far this year, the country is on pace for 200 executions in 2018 — a modern record.

Quote of the moment

"The use of nerve agent on U.K. soil is a brazen and reckless act. This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way."

- Amber Rudd, the U.K.'s Home Secretary, vowing to track down the authors of the attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter "whoever they are, wherever they may be."

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd arrives at Downing Street in London for a cabinet meeting on Feb. 20. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Saudi women hope right to drive will pave road to bigger freedoms (CBC)
  • NYPD ready to arrest Harvey Weinstein, police official says (Daily Beast)
  • #MeToo movement engulfs South Korea in storm of new abuse allegations (Asia Times)
  • RCMP investigating supervisor for allegedly simulating sex act on an eggplant (CBC)
  • Susan Sarandon: Paul Newman gave me part of his salary (BBC)
  • Florida lawmakers pass bill allowing school staff to carry guns (CNN)
  • Springtime for Milosevic: new musical adds gloss to life of accused Serb war criminal (Politico)
  • Man blows up home after using fly spray as flamethrower (Sydney Morning Herald)

Today in history

March 8, 1977: David Suzuki on making science accessible

The original "war against science" was a civil one. David Suzuki's campaign to inform the public and make science more accessible wasn't all that popular with his fellow eggheads. They found the idea of a bearded hipster breaking things down on TV a little déclassé.

As he becomes more famous, Suzuki talks about his motives for making science accessible. 10:37

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.