Merkel takes on hard-right in final German vote push

Updated 22 September 2017
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Merkel takes on hard-right in final German vote push

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her beleaguered rival Martin Schulz embark on a final push for votes Friday ahead of a weekend election, both seeking to beat back a challenge from the emboldened hard-right.
The 63-year-old Merkel, who polls say will cruise by a double-digit margin to a fourth term on Sunday, will rally supporters in the southern city of Munich, at the height of the Oktoberfest beer festival.
Schulz, 61, a former European Parliament president and leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), will take to the stage in a central Berlin square in a last-ditch attempt to turn the race in his favor.
Despite Merkel’s commanding lead, the latest polls point to storm clouds on the horizon.
The anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party Alternative for Germany (AfD) looks set to easily clear the five-percent hurdle to representation in parliament in a historic post-war first.
The prospect of some 60 MPs from a nativist outfit branded “real Nazis” by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel taking seats in the Bundestag lower house has added urgency and angst to what had long been dismissed as a suspense-free campaign.
“Go vote and vote for the parties that are 100 percent loyal to our constitution,” Merkel told Germans in a swipe at the AfD.
“We have to take a clear stance when it’s about our basic values.”
The AfD is currently polling at around 11 percent, deeply unsettling the mainstream parties that have governed Germany since the war.
A strong showing for the AfD could eat away at Merkel’s lead. With her CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU at 36 percent according to a new poll late Thursday, close to their worst-ever score (35.1 percent in 1998).
Schulz this week took some succour from Merkel’s slipping poll numbers, hoping for a “last-minute turnaround” linked to “growing unease” in the population.
However, his SPD is set to fare even worse, around 22 percent, signalling an unmitigated disaster for Germany’s oldest party.
With the economy humming, business confidence robust and unemployment at post-reunification lows, analysts say there is simply little appetite for change at the top.
During her campaign rallies, Merkel has been repeatedly confronted by organized AfD protesters, even dodging a few tomatoes while hammering home her stability-and-prosperity stump speech.
The rightwing populists have seized on those disillusioned by Merkel’s 12-year tenure, and by her 2015 decision to let more than one million mainly Muslim asylum seekers into the country.
Even the mainstream media point to a degree of Merkel fatigue, arguing that the soporific campaign and a sense of complacency could ultimately drive many German voters into the arms of extremists.
“For months, Merkel was the phlegmatic queen of the campaign but now, near the finishing line, it’s not Martin Schulz that is posing a danger but her own ponderousness,” Rene Pfister of Der Spiegel wrote.
“That antagonizes AfD supporters, who in the CDU’s confidence of victory see further evidence of the arrogance of power in the late Merkel years.”
Merkel’s chief of staff Peter Altmaier caused a stir this week by suggesting it would be better for Germans not to vote at all than to cast their ballot for the AfD.
One of their two main candidates, Alice Weidel, slammed the comments as anti-democratic.
“Altmaier’s declaration is tantamount to admitting political bankruptcy and reveals his disturbed relationship to democracy,” she fumed.
AfD supporter Guenther Poppe, a 69-year-old pensioner attending a campaign event in the eastern Berlin district of Marzahn late Thursday, said he refused to be stigmatized for his vote.
“The right in Germany has a negative connotation but the AfD could serve as constructive opposition for the good of the German people,” he told AFP.
But Gerd Appenzeller of Berlin’s daily Tagesspiegel warned that news of the AfD’s success would hit like a bombshell Sunday night.
“Although the AfD is highly unlikely to fare as well as the extreme right in France or the Netherlands, any relative success for the AfD will reflect badly to international onlookers, given German history,” he said.
“No amount of rage against Merkel, fury at the SPD, or resignation at modern politics can justify voting for a party that would — given the chance — shake this country’s foundations to the core.”


EXCLUSIVE: US offers India armed version of Guardian drone - sources

Updated 12 min 19 sec ago
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EXCLUSIVE: US offers India armed version of Guardian drone - sources

  • An Indian defense source said the military wanted a drone not just for surveillance but also to be able to hunt down targets at land and sea
  • The plan included a new drone export policy that allowed lethal drones that can fire missiles

FARNBOUROUGH, England: The United States has offered India the armed version of Guardian drones that were originally authorized for sale as unarmed for surveillance purposes, a senior U.S. official and an industry source told Reuters.
If the deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time Washington has sold a large armed drone to a country outside the NATO alliance.
It would also be the first high-tech unmanned aircraft in the region, where tensions between India and Pakistan run high.
In April, President Donald Trump's administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.
The plan included a new drone export policy that allowed lethal drones that can fire missiles, and surveillance drones of all sizes, to be more widely available to allies.
One administrative hurdle to the deal is that Washington is requiring India to sign up to a communications framework that some in New Delhi worry might be too intrusive, the U.S. official said.
The drones were on the agenda at a canceled meeting between Indian and the U.S. ministers of state and defense that was set for July, the sources said. The top level meeting is now expected to take place in September.
Last June, General Atomics said the U.S. government had approved the sale of a naval variant of the drone. India has been in talks to buy 22 of the unarmed surveillance aircraft, MQ-9B Guardian, worth more than $2 billion to keep watch over the Indian Ocean.
Besides potentially including the armed version of the drone, the sources said the number of aircraft had also changed.
An Indian defense source said the military wanted a drone not just for surveillance but also to be able to hunt down targets at land and sea. The military had argued the costs of acquisition did not justify buying an unarmed drone.
The cost and integration of the weapons system are still issues, as well as Indian assent to the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which Washington insists on as a condition for operating advanced defense systems.
India, the defense source said, has shed its opposition to the agreement after an assurance from the United States it would apply largely to U.S-procured weapons systems such as fighter planes and drones and not to the large Russian-origin equipment with the Indian military.
U.S. drone manufacturers, facing growing competition overseas, especially from Chinese and Israeli rivals which often sell under lighter restrictions, have lobbied hard for the changes in U.S export rules.
Among the changes will be a more lenient application by the U.S. government of an arms export principle known as "presumption of denial." This has impeded many drone deals by automatically denying approval unless a compelling security reason is given together with strict buyer agreements to use the weapons in accordance with international law.
A second U.S. official said the new policy would "change our calculus" by easing those restrictions on whether to allow any given sale.
The MTCR – a 1987 missile-control pact signed by the United States and 34 other countries – will still require strict export controls on Predator-type drones, which it classifies as Category 1, those with a payload of over 1,100 pounds (500 kg).
However, the Trump administration is seeking to renegotiate the MTCR accord to eventually make it easier to export the larger armed drones.
The head of Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) told Reuters at the Farnborough Airshow that he was unable to comment on any pending deals that had not been notified to Congress.