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European Central Bank
opposes higher taxes

BARCELONA, Spain — Ahead of crucial elections this weekend in France and Greece, Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, warned governments Thursday against the “easier road” of raising taxes to fill public coffers, saying it would not solve Europe’s economic problems.

He spoke from the current ground zero of the European debt crisis, Spain, where the central bank’s governing council happened to be holding one of two meetings each year it schedules outside the bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt.

The central bank officials met under heavy police protection intended to shield them from any possible street protests over European austerity measures. No big demonstrations materialized. But the bunker atmosphere might have in some ways symbolized the distance between the central bank’s policymaking and the anxious mood of much of the European public.

“Is having helicopters and snipers on the roofs the way the ECB wanted to show its face and meet the Spanish people?” asked Edward Hugh, an economist in Barcelona.

The central bank left its benchmark interest rate unchanged, at 1 percent, choosing not to react immediately to signs that the eurozone economy was continuing to deteriorate. Analysts had expected no action on rates.

—Raphael Minder and Jack Ewing, The New York Times

Methodists keep stricture
on homosexuality

The United Methodist Church at its convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday voted against changing long-contested language in its book of laws and doctrines that calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The vote was 61–39 percent against the change to the church’s Book of Discipline. The delegates also defeated by a similar margin a compromise proposed by gay rights advocates, which said that Methodists could acknowledge their differences on homosexuality while still living together as a church.

In other historic mainline Protestant denominations in the United States, liberals have prevailed so far in the battles over homosexuality. The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have all voted in recent years to end their outright prohibitions on openly gay clergy members. But in the United Methodist Church, theological conservatives have held sway in the 40 years that the church has been debating the issue.

The votes set off a protest inside the convention. Gay rights supporters gathered around a communion table at the center of the hall, singing.

—Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times

In letters, bin Laden fretted
over legacy and relevance

WASHINGTON — Sitting in his secret refuge, hiding from the world, Osama bin Laden spent the last months of his life rethinking strategy, worrying about his legacy and struggling to maintain control over the sprawling terrorist network that operated in his name.

He had grown disgruntled with far-flung offshoots theoretically under his umbrella and fretted that too many of the “brothers” were alienating Muslims with attacks on fellow believers. He agitated for spectacular missions, including the assassination of President Barack Obama. And he considered a marketing campaign to change the infamous network’s name.

The portrait of bin Laden’s life in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, emerges from a sheaf of letters released Thursday that provide a sort of anthropology of a terror network. The frustrations expressed by bin Laden as he issued instructions sometimes in vain might be familiar to any chief executive trying to keep tabs on a multinational corporation that had grown beyond its modest origins.

And he fretted about how he would be remembered by history. “He who does not make known his own history,” he wrote to one of his lieutenants, runs the risk that “some in the media and among historians will construct a history for him, using whatever information they have, regardless of whether their information is accurate or not.”

—Peter Baker, The New York Times

Deadly crackdown reported
on Syrian university

BEIRUT — A violent clampdown by Syrian security forces against a student demonstration at Aleppo University ended with at least four students killed, including one heaved out a fifth-floor window, and scores arrested, activists and opposition organizations said Thursday.

The university announced on its website that it was suspending classes until final exams on May 13, and it closed its sprawling dormitory complex, with troops pushing thousands of students to leave. Students camped out overnight on rooftops and campus lawns, while the roads outside the university were crowded with departing students and piles of luggage, as shown in videos and pictures posted online.

The suppression prompted sympathy rallies at universities around Syria and a large march through a nearby Aleppo neighborhood with protesters chanting “We don’t want Bashar!” — a reference to President Bashar Assad.

Small protests also continued to flare on the Aleppo campus, with one shaky amateur video showing a group of female students shouting, “The Syrian army are traitors!” while soldiers growled, “Back off!”

The opposition umbrella organization, the Syrian National Council, called for a nationwide strike by students in solidarity with Aleppo University, one of the country’s largest public universities with 60,000 students. The bloody repression of the student protest further eroded a truce negotiated under U.N. auspices, since one pillar of the plan is the right to hold peaceful demonstrations.

—Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times