Posts Tagged Germany

European-Wide Protests Against Immigration

PegidaGermany’s anti-Islam PEGIDA movement staged rallies in several cities across Europe on Saturday to protest against the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

The movement, whose name stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, originated in the eastern German city of Dresden in 2014, with supporters seizing on a surge in asylum seekers to warn that Germany risks being overrun by Muslims.

After almost fizzling out early last year, the movement has regained momentum amid deepening public unease over whether Germany can cope with the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the country during 2015.

The alleged involvement of migrants in assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve has also spurred PEGIDA, which says it is proof that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming stance to refugees is flawed.

“We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe’s external borders as well as its internal borders once again,” PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz told a crowd on the banks of the River Elbe who chanted “Merkel must go!”.

Police in Dresden declined to estimate the number of protesters. German media put the number at up to 8,000, well below the 15,000 originally expected by police.

Hundreds of counter-demonstrators also marched through Dresden under the motto “Solidarity instead of exclusion”, holding up placards saying “No place for Nazis”.

Far-right groups see Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast their anti-immigrant message. There were 208 rallies in Germany in the last quarter of 2015, up from 95 a year earlier, Interior Ministry data showed.

Protests also took place on Saturday in other cities, including Amsterdam, Prague and the English city of Birmingham.

In Calais, in northern France, more than a dozen people were arrested during a protest that was attended by more than a hundred people despite being banned, local authorities said.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East camp out in Calais, hoping for a chance to make the short trip across the English Channel to Britain.

In Prague, an estimated 2,200 people including both supporters and opponents of Pegida held a series of rival demonstrations around the Czech capital. Police had to intervene in one march when supporters of the migrants came under attack from around 20 people who threw bottles and stones.

Later, around 20 masked assailants threw Molotov cocktails during an attack on a center that collects donations for refugees, forcing the evacuation of the building and injuring one person who was hit by glass, police said.

In Warsaw, hundreds of people waved Polish flags and chanted “England and France are in tears, that’s how tolerance ends”.

“We’re demonstrating against the Islamisation of Europe, we’re demonstrating against immigration, against an invasion,” Robert Winnicki, leader of Poland’s far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), told demonstrators.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have together taken a tough stance on migration and have been largely opposed to taking in significant numbers of refugees.

 

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Tourists Targeted in Istanbul Suicide Attack

Sultanahmet squareA suicide bomber thought to have crossed recently from Syria killed at least 10 people, most of them German tourists, in Istanbul’s historic heart on Tuesday, in an attack Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed on Islamic State.

All of those killed in Sultanahmet square, near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – major tourist sites in the center of one of the world’s most visited cities – were foreigners, Davutoglu said. A senior Turkish official said nine were German, while Peru’s foreign ministry said a Peruvian man also died.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was believed to have recently entered Turkey from Syria but was not on Turkey’s watch list of suspected militants. He said earlier that the bomber had been identified from body parts at the scene and was thought to be a Syrian born in 1988.

Davutoglu said he had spoken by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer condolences and vowed Turkey’s fight against Islamic State, at home and as part of the U.S.-led coalition, would continue.

“Until we wipe out Daesh, Turkey will continue its fight at home and with coalition forces,” he said in comments broadcast live on television, using an Arabic name for Islamic State. He vowed to hunt down and punish those linked to the bomber.

Merkel similarly vowed no respite in the fight against international terrorism, telling a news conference in Berlin: “The terrorists are the enemies of all free people … of all humanity, be it in Syria, Turkey, France or Germany.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Islamist, leftist and Kurdish militants, who are battling Ankara in southeast Turkey, have all carried out attacks in the past.

Several bodies lay on the ground in the square, also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, in the immediate aftermath of the blast. It was not densely packed at the time of the explosion, according to a police officer working there, but small groups of tourists had been wandering around.

“This incident has once again shown that as a nation we should act as one heart, one body in the fight against terror. Turkey’s determined and principled stance in the fight against terrorism will continue to the end,” President Tayyip Erdogan told a lunch for Turkish ambassadors in Ankara.

Norway’s foreign ministry said one Norwegian man was injured and was being treated in hospital.

The White House condemned the “heinous attack” and pledged solidarity with NATO ally Turkey against terrorism. U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon said he hoped those responsible for “this despicable crime” were swiftly brought to justice.

Turkey, a candidate for accession to the European Union, is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State fighters who have seized territory in neighboring Syria and Iraq, some of it directly abutting Turkey.

The dull thud of Tuesday’s blast was heard in districts of Istanbul several kilometers away, residents said. Television footage showed a police car which appeared to have been overturned by the force of the blast.

Tourist sites including the Hagia Sophia and nearby Basilica Cistern were closed on the governor’s orders, officials said.

Turkey has become a target for Islamic State, with two bombings last year blamed on the radical Sunni Muslim group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people.

Violence has also escalated in the mainly Kurdish southeast since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for three decades for Kurdish autonomy.

The PKK has however generally avoided attacking civilian targets in urban centers outside the southeast in recent years.

Turkey also sees a threat from the PYD and YPG, Kurdish groups in Syria which are fighting Islamic State with U.S. backing, but which Ankara says have close links to the PKK.

Davutoglu’s office imposed a broadcasting ban on the blast, invoking a law which allows for such steps when there is the potential for serious harm to national security or public order.

The attack raised fears of further damage to Turkey’s vital tourism industry, already hit by a diplomatic row with Moscow which has seen Russian tour operators cancel trips.

 

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Merkel Backs Proposal to Expel Convicted Refugee Sex Offenders

Angela Merkel GermanyChancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday backed her party’s proposal to expel asylum seekers convicted of committing crimes in Germany, as crowds demonstrated in Cologne after a wave of sex attacks on women on New Year’s Eve.

About 1700 police were on the streets of Cologne with riot officers firing water canon at right-wing PEGIDA protesters after some threw firecrackers and beer bottles at officers.

Two people were injured in the clash, and police made a number of arrests.

It is estimated that more than 3,000 people attended Saturday’s PEGIDA rally and a rival demonstration.

At the PEGIDA rally one banner read “Rapefugees not Welcome”.

In a separate left-wing protest, more than 2,000 mostly women gathered close to the train station where many of the attacks, including muggings and sexual assaults, happened.

“No means no. Keep away from our bodies,” read one sign held by a demonstrator.

The protests took place as police in Cologne revised the number of cases filed over the New Year’s Eve violence up to 379. Police added that asylum seekers and illegal immigrants made up the vast majority of suspects.

“Those in the focus of criminal police investigations are mostly people from North African countries. The majority of them are asylum seekers and people who are in Germany illegally,” police said in a statement, adding that around 40 percent of the cases related to sexual assault.

Earlier Merkel said the proposal to expel asylum seekers, which will be discussed with her coalition partners and would need parliamentary approval, would help Germany deport “serial offenders” convicted of lesser crimes.

“This is in the interests of the citizens of Germany, but also in the interests of the great majority of the refugees who are here,” Merkel told party members in Mainz.

The reports of the Cologne attacks on women by groups of men described by police as predominantly Arab or North African in origin have fuelled calls for tighter controls in Germany, which received nearly 1.1 million migrants in 2015.

“If people act outside the law… naturally there must be consequences,” Merkel said.

Of 31 suspects temporarily detained for questioning following the New Year’s Eve attacks, there were 18 asylum seekers but also two Germans and an American among others, and none were accused of specifically committing sexual assaults and the investigation is ongoing.

Cologne’s police chief was dismissed Friday amid mounting criticism of his force’s handling of the incidents, and being slow with releasing information.

Merkel said local authorities must not be perceived to be withholding information and urged that the case be “fully clarified.”

“Everything has to be put on the table,” she said.

Striking a ‘difficult balance’

The attacks have really changed the tone of the migrant debate here in Germany noting that Merkel now needs to strike a difficult balance. She will certainly have to reassure citizens of Germany, who are understandably quite concerned, that she is taking a tough stance on these perpetrators and promising that those who come to Germany will face prosecution and conviction if they do not comply with German laws. Merkel also said, “She also doesn’t want to backtrack on what has been called her open-door policy on migration.”

The proposal passed by party leaders would strengthen the ability of police to conduct checks of identity papers, and also to exclude foreigners from being granted asylum who had been convicted of crimes and sentenced to terms even as light as probation.

“Serial offenders who consistently, for example, return to theft or time and again insult women must count on the force of the law,” Merkel said.

Merkel has steadfastly refused to agree to establish a cap on newcomers, but the CDU proposal did note that “a continuation of the current influx would overwhelm the state and society even in a country like Germany in the long run,” the dpa news agency reported.

 

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Russia Expects Iran Nuclear Deal to be Implemented in January

Iran  Nuclear DealRussia’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday he expected a historic nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to be implemented in January, leading to sanctions against Tehran being lifted.

At talks in Vienna, senior officials from those major powers discussed with Iran a text they have prepared that would close the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 12-year investigation of Tehran’s past activities while ensuring the IAEA could still check for signs of suspicious behaviour.

Under the deal, Iran must scale back its nuclear program, including its stockpile of low-enriched uranium – which it plans to do via a swap for non-enriched forms of uranium with Russia, to remove concerns it could be put to developing nuclear bombs.

That swap will be done before the end of the year, the Russian envoy to the IAEA, Vladimir Voronkov, told reporters.

Iran has said it will fulfill all its commitments under the July agreement only if the IAEA’s Board of Governors passes a resolution formally closing its investigation into Iran’s nuclear past when the board meets on Dec. 15.

The draft resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors drawn up by the major powers France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China, and sent to other states on Monday contained provisions that both sides could claim as victories.

“(The board) also notes that all the activities in the road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program were implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule and further notes that this closes the Board’s consideration of this item,” the text said.

The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, also said the board would eventually no longer be seized of “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, referring to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That phrase, and a shorter version before the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions were passed, has been the title of the IAEA’s regular reports on its investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities since 2003.

The draft resolution did, however, also provide for the board to tackle a new item covering “implementation and verification and monitoring” of the July deal in Iran, and for the IAEA to provide quarterly reports on Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the accord.

More generally, it requests the head of the agency to “report, in this regard … to the Board of Governors for appropriate action, and in parallel to the United Nations Security Council, at any time if the Director General has reasonable grounds to believe there is an issue of concern.”

Earlier on Monday, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, who met with senior officials from major powers in Vienna, after the meetings said he was satisfied with the draft resolution and expected it to be adopted next week.

For sanctions on Iran to be lifted, the IAEA must first verify that the Islamic Republic has honoured all its commitments under the July deal, including dismantling large numbers of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and filling parts of its Arak nuclear site with cement.

The IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear past, which was issued last week, strongly suggested Tehran had a secret nuclear weapons program before 2003, but, in a sign of the shift in relations since July, Western powers voiced little concern.

Araqchi said Iran rejected the findings of the report about its program before 2003, but added that, in Iran’s view, overall the document showed the peaceful nature of Iran’s atomic activities.

“We believe that based on this final assessment the Board of Governors should close the so-called PMD issue,” he told reporters, referring to the report into what is also known as the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear past.

 

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Osborne in Climb-down over NHS Funding to Avert Crisis

Osborne N HS

Health experts have warned against cuts to public health funding and social care as George Osborne announced a £3.8 billion cash injection for the NHS.

The funding boost above inflation for frontline NHS services in England has been warmly welcomed but experts said the cash must not be clawed back from other areas.

The Treasury has agreed the new settlement as part of a manifesto promise to give the NHS an extra £8bn a year by 2020.

It will bring spending to £106.5bn in 2016-17, which is the equivalent of a 3.7% or £3.8bn rise.

By 2020-21, the total budget will be £119.6bn – a rise of £8.4bn once inflation is taken into account.

But some critics have suggested that public health budgets still face cuts. These are held by councils for services including sexual health, stop smoking clinics and student nurse bursaries.

Doubts also remain over social care, which has a knock-on effect on the NHS. There has been a rise in the number of medically fit people having to stay in hospital because social care services are not available in the community for them to be discharged.

The numbers receiving social care is also falling, which critics argue increases the pressure on the health service.

Rob Webster, chief executive of NHS Confederation, welcomed the extra cash for the NHS but said “w e are clear that significant risks remain”.

He added: “In particular, the NHS will fail to deliver good care without adequate social care provision and improvements in the public’s health.

“Local government budgets have been cut dramatically over the last five years and there is no doubting the knock-on impact this has on the NHS.

“If the funding gap in social care is not adequately addressed, costs will be shifted to health and if we don’t use resources to keep people healthier for longer, we store up trouble for the future.”

Anita Charlesworth, chief economist at the Health Foundation, said: “Make no mistake, the NHS is in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis.

“Key targets for waiting times targets are being missed. There is deep concern about the quality of mental health services. Three-quarters of trusts are in deficit. NHS providers are expected to end the year £2.2bn in the red.

“To stop this decline the health service needs the pledged budget increases to arrive sooner rather than later and the Government’s confirmation of front-loaded funding is therefore welcome.

“However, any move to redefine and shrink the definition of the NHS would be particularly worrying.

“If some of this new money comes from other parts of the health service – such as public health or training – it would be a false economy and likely to have a negative impact on service and efficiency.

“Even with additional funding this will be the most austere decade for the NHS since its inception. Public funding for the NHS will fall as a share of GDP from the current 7.4%.

“The UK already devotes a lower share of its economic wealth to health than most other European countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.”

Mr Osborne – who is due to unveil full details of his Comprehensive Spending Review alongside his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, said the extra money, which includes cash already given to the service, would mean world-class treatment for patients.

He said: “We promised the British people that their priority was our priority, and we would fund our National Health Service.

“We will deliver £6 billion a year extra investment straight away, as those in charge of the NHS have requested.

“This means I am providing the health department with a half a trillion pound settlement, the biggest ever commitment to the NHS since its creation.

“This will mean world-class treatment for millions more patients, deliver a truly seven-day health service and allow the NHS to implement its five-year plan to transform the services patients receive.”

The Government has pledged that by 2020 everyone in England will be able to access GP services in the evenings and at weekends.

By the same time, all key hospital services are due to operate seven days a week.

 

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Iranian Supreme Leader Bans Further Negotiations Between Iran and the United States

Ayatollah Ali KhameneiIran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday banned any further negotiations between Iran and the United States, putting the brakes on moderates hoping to end Iran’s isolation after reaching a nuclear deal with world powers in July.

Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, already said last month there would be no more talks with the United States after the nuclear deal, but has not previously declared an outright ban.

His statements directly contradict those of moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who says his government is ready to hold talks with the United States on how to resolve the conflict in Syria, where the two countries back opposing sides.

“Negotiations with the United States open gates to their economic, cultural, political and security influence. Even during the nuclear negotiations they tried to harm our national interests.,” Khamenei was quoted as saying on his website.

“Our negotiators were vigilant but the Americans took advantage of a few chances,” he said.

Although he supported the last 18 months of negotiations, Khamenei has not publicly endorsed the nuclear agreement with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia that settled a standoff of more than a decade.

The West feared Iran wanted to develop nuclear weapons, suspicions Tehran denies.

The agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for crippling sanctions being lifted, was welcomed by Iranians who are keen to see their living standards improve and better relations with the rest of the world.

It was also a great political victory for Rouhani and his faction in Iran ahead of some key elections next year and as such has deepened the divide in Iran’s complex power structure between moderates and hardliners.

In his address to Revolutionary Guards Navy commanders, Khamenei said talks with the United States brought only disadvantages to Iran.

“Through negotiations Americans seek to influence Iran … but there are naive people in Iran who don’t understand this,” Khamenei was quoted as saying to the IRGC commanders, who are also running much of Iran’s military involvement in Syria.

Hundreds of Iranian troops arrived in Syria last month, sources told Reuters, where they will join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes.

The West dispute the aims of Russia’s air campaign, which is causing friction between Moscow and NATO.

“We are in a critical situation now as the enemies are trying to change the mentality of our officials and our people on the revolution and our national interests,” Khamenei told the Guards.

Khamenei often invokes an unspecified “enemy” when talking about Western powers, particularly the United States and Israel, which he suspects of plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

His comments might invigorate the hardline lawmakers seeking the impeachment of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over shaking hands with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

“On and off the record, it was an accident,” Zarif said in an interview with New Yorker on Tuesday.

“It has already cost me at home. But everything I do costs me at home, so this is not an aberration.”

 

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Germany Suspends Schengen Amid Migrant Wave

GermanyEuropean ministers will hold emergency talks Monday on plans to distribute migrants around the continent, after Germany reintroduced border controls admitting it could no longer cope with the influx.

The dramatic reinstatement of border checks Sunday signalled a U-turn on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s earlier decision to throw open the country’s borders to Syrian refugees.

“The German decision of today underlines the urgency to agree on the measures proposed by the European Commission in order to manage the refugee crisis,” the EU said Sunday.

A plan to distribute 160,000 refugees to relieve pressure on “frontline” states such as Italy, Greece and Hungary, faces strong resistance from countries including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.

A record 5,809 migrants entered Hungary in a new surge on Sunday, smashing the previous day’s record of 4,330, Hungarian police said.

The sharp increase came ahead of harsh new Hungarian laws coming into force Tuesday under which people entering the EU country illegally can be jailed.

Hungarian news website Index.hu reported that its neighbour Serbia would try to “push through” as many as 25-30,000 migrants on Monday before the new Hungarian laws bite.

And Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has insisted his country would never accept compulsory quotas, saying the system “won’t work”, while Slovakia said it would try to block any such binding measures.

Germany’s reintroduction of border controls threatens to undermine the so-called Schengen system, which allows passport-free travel among many nations in the bloc.

“The aim of this measure is to stop the current influx to Germany and to return to an orderly process,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Sunday.

Migrants must understand “they cannot choose the states where they are seeking protection,” he told reporters, as Germany also temporarily halted all train traffic to and from Austria.

Germany’s actions were welcomed by Hungary’s hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“We understand that this decision was necessary in order to defend Germany’s and Europe’s values,” he told Bild newspaper.

Hungary, which reported a record 4,330 newcomers on Saturday alone, is racing to finish a controversial anti-migrant fence on its frontier by Tuesday, when tough new laws will take effect.

For those already in Hungary, confusion reigned late Sunday over whether they would be able to enter Germany, the preferred destination of many of the migrants.

The developments came as tragedy struck again off the coast of Greece, with 34 more migrants, including four babies and 11 children, drowning when their overcrowded wooden boat capsized in high winds.

Under EU rules, the first country of entry is required to deal with an asylum seeker’s request for protection, but Germany had waived the rule for Syrian refugees.

While earning praise for its welcoming stance, German regional authorities have buckled under the sudden surge of migrants.

In Munich, overwhelmed local officials said they were stretched to capacity, with more than 13,000 people arriving in the city on Saturday alone.

Merkel, whose country expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, bluntly warned last month that the passport-free Schengen zone of 26 countries was under threat if the EU failed to work together on coping with the inflow.

“If we don’t arrive at a fair distribution then the issue of Schengen will arise, we don’t want that,” she said.

The International Organisation for Migration said Friday that more than 430,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with 2,748 dying en route or going missing.

The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meanwhile urged the United Nations on Sunday to consider a peacekeeping force for Syria to help stem the flow of people trying to reach Europe.

 

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