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Archive for the ‘United Land of Germany’ Category

Merkel, Algerian officials discuss migration, Libya

September 17, 2018

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday during a one-day visit to the country to discuss migration and the situation in neighboring Libya.

Algeria’s official APS news agency reported the meeting happened in the presence Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and other government members. The discussions take on particular significance before April’s presidential election in Algeria. No candidate has yet emerged because everyone is waiting to learn whether Bouteflika, 81, partially paralyzed from a stroke and rarely seen in public, will seek a fifth term.

Bouteflika travelled to Switzerland earlier this month for medical check-ups. Algerian television channels showed images of Merkel and Bouteflika talking together. In a joint news conference, Merkel and Ouyahia said they agreed on a process to send about 700 Algerian migrants identified as illegally staying in Germany back to their country.

Ouyahia suggested that German airline Lufthansa should help with their transfer in addition to Air Algeria. Algerian authorities requested that no special flight is chartered, he said. “Algeria will take back its children staying irregularly in Germany,” he said.

Merkel said they also discussed the situation in neighboring Mali and Libya, without providing details. Before the talks, Merkel visited the hilltop memorial to “martyrs” who died in Algeria’s war of independence with France that ended in 1962.

Germany was Algeria’s fourth-largest commercial partner in 2017, with 200 German companies working in various sectors in the North African country. This was Merkel’s first visit to Algeria in a decade. Initially set for February 2017, it was postponed because Bouteflika was stricken with the flu.

Both countries also sought to deepen their economic cooperation. Mohamed Saidj, professor of political science in Algiers, told The Associated Press that Merkel’s meeting with Bouteflika provided the Algerian president an occasion to “show his adversaries that he keeps assuming normally the prerogatives of his office.”

Saidj stressed that Algeria has strong economic links with Germany especially in mechanical engineering, the auto industry, renewable energy, the chemical sector and pharmaceuticals.

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German police say anti-coal protester ‘holed up’ in forest

September 15, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Firefighters pumped fresh air into a makeshift tunnel Saturday beneath an ancient German forest that environmentalists are trying to stop from being chopped down for a coal mine, while protesters nearby engaged in a standoff with police.

Aachen police said at least one person was believed to be holed up underground, and authorities ordered journalists out of the area while they investigated the tunnel system beneath Hambach forest, west of Cologne.

Police spokesman Wolfgang Roethgens said officers earlier removed four protesters who had chained themselves to a facility at the Niederaussem coal-fired power station that is supplied by the nearby lignite strip mine, which is being expanded by utility company RWE. Hundreds of protesters tried to enter the forest but were blocked by police.

Police entered the forest earlier in the week to remove protesters who have been living in the forest for months in an effort to stop the cutting down of the woodland, which is believed to be up to 12,000 years old. By Saturday, officers had cleared 13 of about 50 treehouses in the forest.

Environmental groups argue that Hambach forest should be spared while Germany mulls ending the extraction and burning of coal as part of the country’s effort to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases.

News weekly Der Spiegel reported Saturday that a government-appointed commission examining options for the future of Germany’s coal industry is discussing a phase-out of the fossil fuel by 2038. Environmental groups planned to plant saplings between the forest and the mine Sunday.

German spy chief’s future creates new strains in government

September 13, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — The future of Germany’s domestic intelligence chief is creating fresh strains in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government following his much-criticized comments about recent far-right protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told parliament Thursday that Hans-Georg Maassen retains his confidence as head of the BfV intelligence agency. Seehofer said Maassen explained his remarks “convincingly.”

Members of the center-left Social Democrats, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s six-month-old coalition government, made clear they don’t agree. The killing late last month of a German man, for which an Iraqi and a Syrian have been arrested, prompted days of anti-migrant protests in Chemnitz that at times turned violent.

In comments to the mass-circulation Bild daily last week, Maassen questioned the authenticity of a video showing protesters chasing down and attacking a foreigner. He also said his agency had no reliable evidence that foreigners were “hunted” in the streets — a term Merkel had used.

Maassen told Seehofer, his immediate boss, about his doubts before going public but didn’t inform the chancellery. Although they are conservative allies, Seehofer and Merkel have sparred on and off about migrant policy for three years. A dispute between the pair in June briefly threatened to bring down the government.

On Wednesday evening, Maassen was grilled by two parliamentary committees. “He explained comprehensively, and from my point of view convincingly, the way he acted,” Seehofer told lawmakers. Maassen debunked “conspiracy theories” and “convincingly took a stance against right-wing radicalism,” he added.

Merkel doesn’t appear keen to make an issue of Maassen’s remarks, telling parliament Wednesday that a discussion about semantics isn’t helpful. But the Social Democrats, who are struggling in polls, said Seehofer’s decision to keep Maassen in place couldn’t be the last word.

Senior lawmaker Eva Hoegl told lawmakers that the security services must enjoy “our unrestricted confidence, and if there is even the slightest doubt about that, there is a problem — so we should act differently here.”

The head of the Social Democrats’ youth wing, who fought unsuccessfully earlier this year to keep the party out of Merkel’s government, suggested that it should quit the coalition if Maassen is kept on.

Hoegl, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, said Maassen “was not able to restore the confidence he has shaken” and that Seehofer or Merkel should revisit the decision. But “the Social Democrats are, of course, not going to leave the coalition over Mr. Maassen,” she said.

German authorities take aim at far-right party’s youth wing

September 03, 2018

CHEMNITZ, Germany (AP) — German authorities said Monday they’re stepping up surveillance of the far-right Alternative for Germany amid growing concern the third-largest party in parliament is closing ranks with extremist groups.

Activists for AfD, the nationalist party’s German acronym, marched in the eastern city of Chemnitz alongside leading figures in anti-migrant group PEGIDA and members of the area’s militant neo-Nazi scene in the past week, after two refugees were arrested in a German citizen’s fatal stabbing.

“Parts of AfD are openly acting against the Constitution,” Justice Minister Katarina Barley told the RND media group. “We need to treat them like other enemies of the Constitution and observe them accordingly.”

Authorities in northern Germany’s Bremen and Lower Saxony said Monday they have begun monitoring the party’s youth wings in the two states. Boris Pistorius, Lower Saxony’s interior minister, said the decision to keep an eye on the AfD’s local youth wing, was unrelated to the recent events in Chemnitz. It was based on Young Alternative’s anti-democratic goals and links to the Identitarian Movement, a white nationalist group that has been under state surveillance for four years, Pistorius said.

His counterpart in Bremen, Ulrich Maeurer, described the views of AfD’s youth wing in the city-state as “pure racism.” While Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, said over the weekend that the party as a whole didn’t merit surveillance, the monitoring of its youth wings at the state level was a significant step. Some members of the Left party, which describes its position as democratic socialist, also are subject to surveillance.

AfD immediately announced that it would dissolve the two youth sections in question to avert harm to the party and insisted its aims were democratic. Andreas Kalbitz , a member of the party’s national leadership, accused other political parties of panicking in the face of AfD’s electoral success.

AfD’s rise since its founding five years ago has shaken Germany’s establishment and called into question the country’s post-World War II consensus that far-right parties have no place in the mainstream.

The party, bolstered by widespread unease in Germany about the influx of more than 1 million refugees since 2015, placed third in last year’s national election. Officials are particularly concerned about its strategy in eastern Germany. Kalbitz said the party hopes to become the strongest force there after state elections next year.

Saxony – where Chemnitz is located – has an entrenched neo-Nazi scene and seen strong support for AfD. The party encouraged last week’s protests, which drew thousands following the Aug. 26 slaying of 35-year-old carpenter Daniel Hillig in Chemnitz. Some of the demonstrations erupted into violence between far-right marchers and counter-protesters.

A 22-year-old Iraqi citizen and a 23-year-old Syrian citizen were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in Hillig’s death, police said. Speaking publicly for the first time since her husband’s death, Hillig’s widow told Germany’s daily Bild newspaper that “Daniel would have never wanted” the protests triggered by his killing.

“Daniel was neither left nor right,” the widow, identified by Bild only as Bianca T., told the newspaper. Expressing shock at how far-right groups exploited her family’s loss with protest rallies and a “mourning march” over the weekend, she said: “I looked at the events on Saturday night – this was not about Daniel at all.”

“All we want to do right now is mourn him in peace,” she said. Government officials urged Germans who are upset over the killing to distance themselves from the neo-Nazis who performed the stiff-armed “Hitler salute,” chanted “Foreigners out” and harassed journalists covering the demonstrations.

“If one doesn’t think this way, it would be good to draw a clear line and distance oneself from those who are doing that,” said Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman. In an organized response to the far-right marches, tens of thousands of people gathered Monday in Chemnitz for a free, open-air concert by some of Germany’s best-known bands.

The show was part of efforts to encourage young Germans to stand up against far-right extremism. It was promoted with the hashtag #WeAreMore and broadcast live online. “The concert is highly symbolic because it sends a signal that we’ll mobilize people from across the whole country, if necessary, so Chemnitz isn’t abandoned to the right,” said Johannes Staemmler, a political scientist who grew up in Saxony and has focused his research on eastern Germany.

Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel tweeted on Monday that “the far-right terror in Chemnitz is not a Saxon problem, it’s a German one.” Gabriel criticized Germany’s political establishment for being too passive when it comes to combating far-right support and urged public officials to visit towns with simmering anti-migrant sentiment.

“I think it would be good if as many representatives as possible – not only in Chemnitz but everywhere – go to places where we think the citizens are not agreeing with our state,” he said in an interview with Bild.

Jordans and Kirsten Grieshaber contributed reported from Berlin.

German government: Chemnitz protesters should shun neo-Nazis

September 03, 2018

CHEMNITZ, Germany (AP) — Germany’s government on Monday urged those aggrieved by the suspected killing of a man by migrants in Chemnitz to distance themselves from far-right extremists who have participated in violent, xenophobic protest marches in the eastern city over the past week.

The fatal stabbing of 35-year-old carpenter Daniel Hillig in the eastern city on Aug. 26 sparked a series of rallies, some of which erupted into violence. Protesters looked on as neo-Nazis performed the stiff-armed ‘Hitler salute,’ chanted “foreigners out” and harassed journalists covering the demonstrations.

“If one doesn’t think this way it would be good to draw a clear line and distance oneself from those who are doing that,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert. He echoed comments by Chemnitz mayor Barbara Ludwig, who told a rally in the city Saturday that people who repeatedly join protests by far-right extremists “strengthen the right-wing, violent scene.”

The tension that has built up over the past week in Chemnitz reflects the growing polarization over Germany’s ongoing efforts to come to terms with an influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants to the country since 2015.

Authorities said a 22-year-old Iraqi and a 23-year-old Syrian have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in the Chemnitz killing “If their guilt is proven then they will experience the full force of our laws,” said Seibert.

Thousands of people were expected to attend a free, open-air concert in the city Monday intended to send a signal against hatred and anti-migrant sentiment. The concert, which is being promoted under the #WeAreMore hashtag, is part of an effort by German civil society to position itself against the growing far-right movement in parts of Germany.

Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel tweeted on Monday that “the far-right terror in Chemnitz is not a Saxon problem, it’s a German one.” He harshly criticized the political establishment for being too passive when it comes to fighting far-right groups in Germany and asked them to make a stronger showing in places with simmering discontent and anti-migrant sentiment.

“I think it would be good if as many representatives as possible — not only in Chemnitz but everywhere — go to places where we think the citizens are not agreeing with our state,” he said. But, Gabriel added, there was a clear line between angry citizens and those inciting people with hatred.

“We have to go with toughness after these terrorists,” he said in an interview with Bild Television, adding that “there won’t be any discussions with people who make the Hitler salute. There will only be the rigidity of the state.”

Gabriel called on the domestic intelligence service to start watching the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party, which was voted into national parliament last year. In the past, the nationalist AfD has officially distanced itself from radical far-right groups, but over the weekend it joined ranks for the first time with the more radical Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, and Pro Chemnitz group and marched through the city together with them.

While Germany’s top security official, Horst Seehofer, has said there are no grounds to monitor Alternative for Germany, the state-level intelligence service in the northern city of Bremen said it is putting the party’s youth wing under observation.

Also on Monday, Hillig’s widow spoke out for the first time, saying that, “Daniel would have never wanted” the protests triggered by his killing. “Daniel was neither left nor right,” the widow, identified only as Bianca T., told daily Bild adding that she was shocked by how the far right was exploiting his death. “I looked at the events on Saturday night — this was not about Daniel at all.”

“All we want to do right now is mourn him in peace,” she said.

Grieshaber and Jordans reported from Berlin.

Foreign minister to Germans: get off the couch, fight racism

September 02, 2018

CHEMNITZ, Germany (AP) — Germany’s foreign minister told his fellow countrymen Sunday they’re too lazy when it comes to battling racism and fighting for democracy. “We have to get off the couch and open the mouth,” Heiko Maas said in an interview with weekly Bild am Sonntag. “Our generation was given freedom, rule of law and democracy as a present. We didn’t have to fight for it; (now) we’re taking it too much for granted.”

Maas’ comments followed Saturday’s demonstrations by about 4,500 far-right protesters in Chemnitz, who were rallying against migration a week after a German was killed in the eastern city, allegedly by two migrants from Iraq and Syria. Around 4,000 leftist protesters also marched through the city in a counter-protest, and 1,800 police officers were deployed to keep the groups apart.

Eighteen people, including three police officers, were injured during the rallies, which at times were very tense, especially after police ended a march of the far right groups early. After the rallies were over, small groups clashed with each other, police reported.

Soeren Bartol, a lawmaker with the Social Democrats, tweeted that after the end of the protests he and his group “were attacked by Nazis” who destroyed their party flags and physically attacked some of them.

Far-right activists and leftist groups had already clashed in Chemnitz on Monday, a day after the 35-year-old German man’s death. Scenes of vigilantes chasing foreigners in the city’s streets have shocked people in others parts of Germany since then.

The tension that has built up over the past week in Chemnitz, reflects the growing polarization over Germany’s ongoing effort to come to terms with an influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants seeking jobs since 2015.

The far right has constantly criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow in hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. On Monday, thousands of people are expected to travel to Chemnitz again, this time, however, to visit a free open air concert that has been quickly organized by some of the country’s most popular bands, including the rock group Tote Hosen, as a stand against far-right nationalism and anti-migrant prejudice.

Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin.

German police end march envisioned as far-right springboard

September 02, 2018

CHEMNITZ, Germany (AP) — Police in eastern Germany brought an early close Saturday to an anti-migrant march that far-right activists hoped would launch a nationwide movement to challenge the political establishment, with the fatal stabbing of a German citizen as the catalyst.

A trio of nationalist groups held separate rallies in the city of Chemnitz over the Aug. 26 slaying for which a Syrian and an Iraqi citizen were arrested. The two largest groups also organized their first joint march, a display of unity meant to build on other protests since the killing and a potent force to take hold.

Saxony state police cited security concerns for halting the march after more than an hour, producing screams and whistles from demonstrators as officers moved in to clear the streets but no violence or vandalism as the crowd dispersed.

The progress of the far-right march had been interrupted several times before then as counter-protesters blocked the route and the sizeable police contingent on hand rushed to keep them and the marchers apart.

Saxony police estimated the event had 4,500 participants and 4,000 counter-protesters. If attendance is any gauge, the numbers revealed a movement in an early embryonic stage at best rather than approaching a mainstream arrival that could be hastened by well-timed pushes.

The emboldened far-right activists had reason to be optimistic and local authorities to be worried after the opposing camps clashed in Chemnitz on Monday, the day after the 35-year-old German man’s death. Scenes of vigilantes chasing foreigners in the city’s streets have shocked people in others parts of Germany since then.

Police, at times, were unable to control the earlier protests and clashes. Leaders of the two groups that combined forces on Saturday night cultivated a different image for the “mourning march,” wearing dark suits and carrying white roses.

However, the mood at the event bringing together previously isolated clusters of nationalists — from lawmakers to Hitler-saluting skinheads — darkened as the sun set. People from both ends of the political spectrum could be seen drinking beer and shouting slurs at police.

The tension in the air reflected the polarization over Germany’s ongoing effort to come to terms with an influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants seeking jobs since 2015. The right blames Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow in hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan for multiple problems. Some far-right supporters argued before the killing in Chemnitz that migrants are responsible for an increase in serious crimes, especially attacks on women.

The anti-migrant sentiment has been particularly strong in Saxony state, traditional strongholds of groups that sought to inspire a nationwide movement on Saturday night: the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, and the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which has won seats in federal and state parliaments with an anti-Muslim platform.

While the share of foreigners residing in Saxony remains below Germany’s national average and displays of Nazi symbols are outlawed across the shame-marked country, far-right sympathizers mobilized with exceptional speed on the night of the Chemnitz slaying and the days after.

German Justice Minister Katarina Barley said Saturday that authorities should investigate the role of networks from the radical far right in spearheading the week’s protests. “We do not tolerate that right-wing extremists infiltrate our society,” Barley told weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “It’s about finding out who’s behind the mobilization of far-right criminals.”

Local police appeared to have been caught unprepared when the slaying triggered the protests, which attracted crowds openly engaging in Nazi veneration and devolved into violence. The protests were sparked by a fatal stabbing early Sunday morning of a 35-year-old German man, Daniel Hillig. Two asylum-seekers, a 22-year-old Iraqi and a 23-year-old Syrian, have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, known for his anti-migrant stance, said Saturday that he understood why “the people in Chemnitz and elsewhere are upset about the brutal killing” but added “there’s no excuse for violence,” Funke Media Group reported.

“We need a strong state and we have to do everything politically to overcome the polarization and division of our society,” Seehofer stressed. While anti-migrant protests took place in Germany before, especially during the early 1990s, a strong and vocal opposition usually was there to provide a counterforce. Artists organized concerts to raise awareness, and ordinary citizens lined up in miles-long human chains to protest violence against newcomers.

Chemnitz, a city known for its hardened neo-Nazi scene, at first attracted a comparatively weak response to the recent anti-migrant activity. Some 70 left-leaning and pro-migrant groups organized the “Heart not Hatred” rally that got in the way of Saturday’s far-right march.

“I’ve a lot of experience with far-right protests in Chemnitz,” Tim Detzner, a member of the Left Party in Chemnitz, said, noting that the street riots this week “reached a level of aggression, brutality and willingness to use violence that we haven’t known before.”

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.

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