Merkel says Germany ready to reinforce NATO eastern flank

German Chancellor Angela Merkel smiles as she arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 30 April 2016

Merkel says Germany ready to reinforce NATO eastern flank

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that Germany was considering sending troops to Lithuania as part of a NATO mission to reinforce the alliance’s eastern flank with Russia.
However Merkel stressed that any deployment should aim to avoid enflaming tensions with Moscow.
“We are currently reviewing how we can continue our engagement and perhaps even bolster it... in order to ensure the security of all (NATO) states, particularly in the east,” she said. Merkel was speaking to reporters after talks with Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, and after her spokesman confirmed media reports that Berlin was considering a deployment to Lithuania.
“However I personally always stress that it is very important to us that we act within the framework of the NATO-Russia act,” a 1997 agreement on post-Cold War relations.
It notably bans the permanent stationing of significant forces and equipment in former Warsaw Pact states.
Poland in particular has recently pressed NATO to establish “as permanent as possible” a presence in the former communist states once ruled from Moscow to counter a growing threat from Russia after its intervention in Ukraine.
Russia blames NATO for increasing the risk of conflict by building up its troops in eastern Europe.
The NATO-Russia Council, which has been on ice since the alliance cut practical ties with Moscow to protest the annexation of Crimea, met last week in Brussels but parted in acrimony over Ukraine and other issues.
Media reports said that the German military could take command of a force in Lithuania, one of Russia’s border states, with a deployment of 150 to 250 German soldiers as well as troops from other member states.
German soldiers have already participated in NATO training missions in the Baltic states, but such a deployment would mark a significant expansion of its presence in the region.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas welcomed the German proposal as “a firm step on the way of solidarity which enhances our common security.”
Russia’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula in early 2014 sparked fears NATO was too slow and unwieldy to meet the challenge posed by a more assertive Moscow.

At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 9 min 20 sec ago

At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and five others injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter. The number of injured was later reduced to five.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Police forces walk near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP/ANP)

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Emergency services stand at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP)

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)