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Posts tagged ‘United Land of Germany’

Turkish journalists, banned at home, set up shop in Germany

April 13, 2017

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Facing harassment, enforced shutdowns and the threat of jail at home, Turkey’s journalists in exile are using Germany as a base to report on political turmoil in their country ahead of Sunday’s referendum.

“We are here because there is no freedom of the press, and no freedom of expression in Turkey anymore,” said Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of the respected Cumhuriyet newspaper. Dundar was convicted of revealing state secrets after he published a report saying that Turkey’s intelligence agency was involved in sending weapons to Syrian rebels. He was jailed for three months and shot at in front of a court house as he was briefing reporters. Dundar was sentenced to prison but left for Germany after he was freed on appeal without travel restrictions.

Now he’s running the bilingual news website Ozguruz in Berlin, with the help of the German nonprofit news organization Correctiv . “Ozguruz” means “We are free” in Turkish. “There are of course friends and colleagues still struggling in Turkey, but it is a really dangerous task,” Dundar told The Associated Press. “I spent three months in jail and I was shot in front court house, and my only fault was writing the news. So because of that we decided to do this from outside.”

On Sunday, Turks will vote “yes” or “no” to constitutional amendments that would abolish the office of the prime minister and transfer executive powers to the president, something President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics fear would cement his powers and further mold Turkey according to his conservative and pro-Islamic views. Opinion polls suggest he could win narrowly.

Erdogan has cracked down on the opposition in the wake of an attempted coup in July he blames on followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. In addition to jailing and firing thousands of military and government officials, the government closed some 178 news organizations. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that Turkey jailed more journalists in 2016 than any other country, with 81 held at the time of the CPJ’s annual prison census.

Journalist Deniz Yucel, who has German and Turkish citizenship, was arrested last month in Turkey on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred. He was detained after his reports about a hacker attack on the email account of the country’s energy minister, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Erdogan has accused Yucel of being a German spy and a PKK associate. Germany dismissed Erdogan’s claims as absurd. Erdogan’s office declined to comment for this story. Like Dundar, Celal Baslangic, editor-in-chief of Arti TV — which means “TV Plus” — wants to bring fact-based reporting to Turks in Turkey and in Germany. He is operating out of modest offices in an industrial park on the outskirts of Cologne, which has a large Turkish immigrant population.

Germany is home to some 3 million people with Turkish roots. Half of them can vote in Turkey’s referendum. Arti TV recruited several of its technical staff from among Turkish-speakers in Germany, although the journalists tend to be from Turkey itself.

“Our plan with Arti TV is to give a voice for those who do not have a voice or whose voice cannot be heard — and for those who cannot be seen” in Turkey, Baslangic told the AP. “No matter what the outcome and the result of the referendum will be, Turkey is facing a long and dark period of time.”

“If the result is ‘yes’, the time will be longer, harder and bloodier — maybe. If the result is ‘no,’ there will be a small flame and also a bit of hope to be free,” he added. “One day there will be a brighter future anyway.”

Dundar and Baslangic say their goal is to provide objective and reliable news on issues colleagues cannot report on freely at home, such as government corruption and Turkey’s involvement in the civil war in Syria. “It’s our duty and opportunity to publish all those bad stories and give the public what they want to know. This is their right, to know what is going on in their country,” Dundar said.

Dundar says he has not applied for political asylum because he does not expect or want to remain in Germany forever. “We are citizens of our country and we want to go back to our country,” he said. “We don’t want political asylum, we want a base for a while, and to keep up the struggle from Germany.”

“There will be tough times for all of us but in the end we know from history that no dictatorship can stay at last,” he added. “So we know he must go and we are preparing for this day.”

Sopke reported from Berlin.

Merkel hosts Indian leader Modi, looks to broaden world ties

May 30, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — The leaders of Germany and India heaped mutual praise upon each other Tuesday — each referring to the other as a “reliable partner” in a notable contrast to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent public doubts about Germany’s ties with the United States.

Merkel suggested that Europe’s relationship with the U.S. had shifted significantly following last week’s NATO and G-7 meetings with President Donald Trump that produced disappointing results, saying Saturday that “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.”

Asked Tuesday whether her meetings with senior officials from India and China this week signaled a pivot away from Germany’s old ally in Washington, Merkel sought to dampen speculation of a major rift.

“The trans-Atlantic partnership is of outstanding importance and what I said was merely meant to note that in view of the current situation there are more reasons … for us in Europe to take our fate into our own hands,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

Speaking after a meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she went out of her way to laud the South Asian country as a “reliable partner” on major projects and noted that India was working hard to implement the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

“India wants the world not just to be interconnected but also that it should be sensibly run,” Merkel said, backing European Union talks for a trade agreement with India. Climate and trade were the two main issue of contention between the United States and other members at the G-7 summit of major economies in Sicily last week, and the topics look set to flare up again soon.

Trump criticized Germany’s trade surplus with the United States on Tuesday, tying the issue to Berlin’s military spending. “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change,” he tweeted.

“Donald Trump is making clear with his tweet that he considers Germany a political opponent,” said Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary caucus leader of the Social Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government. “This is a new situation — we lived for decades in the certainty that we could rely on each other as partners in an alliance, and this certainty no longer exists today.”

Trump has also said he plans to make a decision this week on whether to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord — widely considered a key achievement of the Obama administration and a necessary measure if the world wants to avoid a sharp rise in global temperatures.

For his part, Modi declared that “the world needs a strong leadership, which is demonstrated by Chancellor Merkel.” “Germany is a large, reliable and trustworthy partner for us,” he added. Merkel is scheduled to meet with China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Wednesday.

Geir Moulson contributed to this report.

Reliving Communist past helps East German dementia patients

May 30, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Every weekday morning, white-haired women patiently line up before a door at a Dresden retirement home, step in, and quickly step back nearly six decades into their past in Communist East Germany.

Most of the women — in their late 70s at the youngest — are suffering from severe dementia, but the reminders from bygone days trigger memories and skills once thought lost, and produce surprising levels of happiness and comfort.

They park their walkers next to a Kaufhalle sign from the former East German grocery chain, put on their colorfully-patterned nylon aprons and start the day just like they did some 50 years ago. They chop up bell peppers, tomatoes and sausages for the popular Hungarian salad of their youth, wash dishes in an original 1960s metal sink and iron their laundry with old-fashioned pressing irons while happily humming along to schmaltzy East German tunes coming from a record player.

It’s hard to imagine that many were — not so long ago — bedridden and unable to eat or use the bathroom on their own, said Gunter Wolfram, the director of the Alexa home in the former East German city of Dresden.

“From the first day on, this room has been a big success story,” Wolfram said. “The people are very happy to recognize things from the old times. They immediately feel comfortable.” The 49-year-old, who grew up in East Germany himself, said it was sheer coincidence that he found out that Communist kitsch and other memorabilia brought comfort to some of his 130 residents. The revelation came two years ago when he decided to decorate the home’s movie theater with a vintage flashy Troll scooter that was once very popular in East Germany.

“Instead of paying attention to the movie, these people got so excited about the motorcycle. They could all of a sudden remember how to start the ignition, and chatted with bright eyes about outings to the Baltic Sea on their own Trolls a long time ago — it was amazing,” Wolfram said.

Inspired by this, he set out to create an entire room in 1960s East German style. He scoured the region’s flea markets and soon had an impressive collection of well-known Ossi — slang for anything and anybody from East Germany, products.

He gathered Spee and Fewa laundry detergents, yellowed magazines and the plastic pepper-and-salt shakers that almost every family in East Germany owned. He also found a wooden wall unit that only the well-to-do could afford at the time. Together with his colleagues, he set up the 1960s room — and the home’s residents were so eager to spend time in a place that felt like home they started coming in droves.

Because of the room’s success, the waiting list for future residents is full and directors from other retirement homes have called Wolfram, asking for advice. Soon the demand for the daily trip back into the past had become so popular that Wolfram added a second room, this one designed in East German 1970s style — including psychedelic-patterned curtains, tasseled floor lamps and a bright-orange rotary dial phone.

In West Germany, capitalism ruled and U.S.-style consumerism flourished only a few years after the end of World War II, but materialism was frowned upon in the Communist East and consumer goods were scarce. Since only a few brands were sold in the country’s Kaufhalle supermarkets, they have very high recognition value among former East Germans.

Some of the items also feature prominently in the 2003 Golden Globe-nominated German movie “Good-bye Lenin!” in which the son of a woman, who had slipped into a coma before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, desperately tries to re-create the old East Germany after she finally wakes up in a reunited Germany. The boy stacks the home with the famous Spreewald pickles and other products from the DDR — as the German Democratic Republic was called in German — trying to obliterate all signs of capitalism.

Herlind Megges, a gerontologist from Berlin’s Charite university hospital who has not been involved in the Alexa home project, said such memory therapy can help improve the capabilities and well-being of dementia patients.

“Memory therapy is often used because it activates exactly what’s still there and still working well,” Megges said. “It’s important for these people, who don’t feel well in this world because it doesn’t match their current memory, that there’s an environment where they feel comfortable.”

Objects from earlier phases of a patient’s life that are connected to comfortable feelings can lead to physical and cognitive improvement, Megges said. Often patients can still retrieve memories from their childhood and early adulthood even when their short-term memory fails.

Millions of elderly around the world suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in which they lose their ability to respond to their environment. While there’s no cure yet, research institutions worldwide are trying to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset and improve the quality of life for dementia patients.

“We’re treating the symptoms, we currently cannot treat the causes of the disease,” Megges said. For Gerda Noack, a 92-year-old retired hat maker born and raised in Dresden, the yesteryear room has been a blessing.

The elegant Noack, who always wears a carefully knotted silk scarf around her neck, used to roam the hallways of the retirement home all day, says Wolfram. She was restless and frustrated, always looking for something she thought she had lost — until she started visiting the 1960s DDR room.

While standing in the room’s kitchen last week, she peacefully stirred the chopped-up peppers in an old frying pan, then later cleaned up dishes with an expression of contentment. Asked if she was happy, she nodded cheerfully, waiting for the nurses to dish up the Hungarian salad she had helped to prepare.

“These old, routine activities in the company of other women in a familiar environment really make our residents much more at ease with themselves,” said Wolfram. “It’s almost become like a job for them, where they spend the entire week here with a whole new sense of purpose.”

Germany to host Ukraine talks in Berlin as fighting persists

May 29, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Foreign Ministry says envoys from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France will meet this week in Berlin to try and push forward the implementation of a peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters Monday that, due to the “difficult and deteriorating” situation in eastern Ukraine, Germany has scheduled a meeting Tuesday with those countries and a representative from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Ukrainian government has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The fighting has cost some 10,000 lives. The diplomats are trying to bridge differences between Russia and Ukraine over implementing the 2015 Minsk deal for eastern Ukraine, which was brokered by Germany and France.

Germany considering Jordan, Cyprus for anti-IS base

May 17, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s defense minister says her office has drafted a list of eight locations where it could move aircraft supporting the anti-IS mission if Turkey continues to block German lawmakers from visiting troops at the Incirlik base.

Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday a team is already in Jordan to assess a site there for its Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane, and Cyprus is also being considered. Nonetheless, she stressed talks with Turkey were still ongoing.

Germany has granted asylum to some soldiers Turkey believes were involved in a failed coup attempt last summer. That has prompted Turkey to block a request for German lawmakers to visit some 270 troops serving with the coalition against the Islamic State group at the Incirlik air base.

Merkel’s party wins election in rivals’ German heartland

May 15, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives won a state election Sunday in their center-left rivals’ traditional heartland, a stinging blow to the challenger in September’s national vote.

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous and has been led by the center-left Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966. It is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term in the Sept. 24 election. Schulz was hoping for a boost after two previous state election defeats sapped his party’s momentum.

Instead, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won 33 percent of the vote in the election for the state legislature, with the Social Democrats trailing on 31.2 percent. Social Democrat governor Hannelore Kraft’s coalition lost its majority as her junior governing partners, the Greens, took only 6.4 percent. Conservative challenger Armin Laschet, a deputy leader of Merkel’s party, was set to replace Kraft.

“The CDU has won the heartland of the Social Democrats,” said the conservatives’ general secretary, Peter Tauber. “This is a difficult day for the Social Democrats, a difficult day for me personally as well,” Schulz, who wasn’t on the ballot Sunday, told supporters in Berlin. “I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today.”

But he urged the party to concentrate now on the national election. He said that “we will sharpen our profile further — we have to as well.” “We will continue fighting; the result will come on Sept. 24,” Schulz said.

The Social Democrats’ national ratings soared after Schulz, a former European Parliament president, was nominated in January as Merkel’s challenger. But defeats in two other state elections since late March punctured the party’s euphoria over Schulz’s nomination.

The Social Democrats’ result in Sunday’s election, the last before the national vote, was their worst in North Rhine-Westphalia since World War II. In the state’s last election in 2012, the Social Democrats beat the CDU by 39.1 percent to 26.3 percent.

The pro-business Free Democrats won a strong 12.6 percent of the vote Sunday after a campaign headed by their national leader, Christian Lindner. That gave the party, with which Merkel governed Germany from 2009 to 2013, a strong base for its drive to return to the national parliament in September after it was ejected four years ago.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany won 7.4 percent, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature. The opposition Left Party fell just short of the 5 percent needed to win seats. The result gives the CDU and Free Democrats a very slim majority. If they can’t agree on a governing alliance, Laschet could opt for a “grand coalition” of the biggest parties with the Social Democrats.

A “grand coalition” would mirror Merkel’s national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners. After a blaze of publicity earlier this year, Schulz — who chose not to join the government when he returned to Germany in January — has struggled to maintain a high profile. He has focused on addressing perceived economic injustices, but critics have accused him of providing too little detail of his aims.

Kraft told ARD television she had “asked Martin Schulz to let national politics wait until the election was over.” Asked whether that was smart, she replied: “I said I would take responsibility for that, and I’m doing that this evening.” She resigned as her party’s regional leader.

Merkel’s conservatives sought to portray Kraft’s government as slack on security, and also assailed what they said is regional authorities’ poor handling of education and infrastructure projects. The region of 17.9 million, nearly a quarter of Germany’s population, includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial area.

Merkel’s party seemed keen not to appear too euphoric, insisting that regional issues played the key role. Asked about Germany’s government after September her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said that “we always have to keep a cool head … we shouldn’t talk about coalitions before the harvest is in.”

National polls show the Social Democrats trailing Merkel’s conservatives by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.

Election in Germany’s most populous state could boost Merkel

May 14, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — An election Sunday in Germany’s most populous state is serving as a prelude to September’s national vote. It could give conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel new momentum in her quest for a fourth term — or offer her center-left challenger some relief.

The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is Schulz’s home territory, though he isn’t on the ballot, and home to 17.9 million people, nearly a quarter of Germany’s population.

The western state, which includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial region, has been led by the Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966. However, polls ahead of the vote — the last test at the ballot box before Germany’s national election on Sept. 24 — now show the Social Democrats neck-and-neck with Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

A defeat for center-left governor Hannelore Kraft would be a major blow for the Social Democrats after poor showings in two previous state elections punctured the party’s euphoria over Schulz’s nomination.

Last weekend, they were beaten by Merkel’s party in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany’s far north. Merkel’s conservatives in the state, led by challenger Armin Laschet, a liberal-minded deputy leader of the Christian Democrats, have little to lose after a dreadful showing in the state vote five years ago.

They have sought to portray Kraft’s state government as slack on security. They point to burglary statistics, incidents such as the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne in 2015 and questions over regional officials’ handling of sometime resident Anis Amri, the rejected Tunisian asylum-seeker who drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in December, killing 12 people.

They also have assailed what they say is regional authorities’ poor handling of education and infrastructure projects. Kraft’s coalition partners, the Greens, are polling poorly and chances of their alliance keeping its majority look poor. The pro-business Free Democrats, eyeing a return to the national parliament in September after they were ejected in 2013, look set for a strong performance.

And the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, hopes to enter its 13th state legislature — though its popularity appears to have faded as the migrant influx has receded and the party has been rent by infighting.

The likeliest outcome appears to be a “grand coalition” of the biggest parties led by whoever finishes first. That would mirror Merkel’s national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners.

After a blaze of publicity earlier this year, Schulz — who chose not to join the government when he returned to Germany after being president of the European Parliament — has struggled to maintain a high profile.

National polls show the Social Democrats trailing Merkel’s conservatives by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.

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