‘Merkel understood nothing’: AfD’s fury in east Germany

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reduced majority has forced her into tough coalition talks with two smaller parties. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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‘Merkel understood nothing’: AfD’s fury in east Germany

COTTBUS, Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel hails from Germany’s ex-communist East, yet it is here where the anger against her runs deepest and the far-right protest party AfD has celebrated its strongest gains.
The electoral success of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, which scored 12.6 percent in September 24 elections, stunned much of the country.
But in Cottbus, located in the Lusatia coal mining region near the Polish border, many cheered the strong result for the party whose battle cry is “Merkel must go.”
In the city of 100,000 people that is dominated by drab Soviet-style tower blocks, the AfD even beat the chancellor’s conservatives, more than doubling its national result by attracting 26.8 percent of the vote.
The list of grievances against Merkel is long if you listen to Klaus Gross, 67, a former army officer of the Soviet-allied regime who became a sales representative after Germany’s 1990 reunification.
“First we had the policy of rescuing the euro, then renewable energy with all these wind turbines everywhere,” he said, pointing to a green energy push that unsettles many in a region dependent on massive open-pit coal mines.
“Then the shut-down of nuclear power plants, overnight,” he went on, referring to the 2011, post-Fukushima decision to shutter Germany’s nuclear reactor fleet.
“And then finally the refugees,” he added, pointing to Germany’s mass influx of more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, which has became Merkel’s key political liability, even within her own conservative bloc.
“Who asked us if this was what we wanted?,” Gross fumed. “Much of the population has been ignored by Merkel and her people!“
In a restaurant near the Cottbus city center, local AfD candidate Marianne Spring-Raeumschuessel was approached by a couple aged in their thirties.
“We voted for you!,” the young woman whispered to her. “You’re right!“
“They have celebrated me like a pop star around here,” said Spring-Raeumschuessel, a former businesswoman aged in her 70s.
She spoke with glee about the fact Merkel’s reduced majority has forced her into tough coalition talks with two smaller parties, predicting that “it will not work.”
The fact that the chancellor said, after scoring her party’s worst result since 1949, that she had done nothing fundamentally wrong, showed that “Mrs Merkel understood nothing.”
Wolfgang Horbenz, 76 and a former power plant mechanic, said the establishment parties must once more take the people seriously and that the AfD “has a future as long as the other parties refuse to change their policies from top to bottom.”
Cottbus, 120 kilometers southeast of Berlin, boasts some historic homes from its early 20th century days as a flourishing textile industry hub — but since the Cold War era it is dominated by residential blocks made from prefabricated concrete slabs.
Gerd Loesky, a 73-year-old retired home decorator, lives in one of them.
What galls him is the mass arrival of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees over the past two years, he said, telling AFP: “It bothers me that they come here ... and that money is wasted on them.”
Horbenz, the mechanic, conceded that “we do not have many,” with the town hall putting the number of migrants in Cottbus at around 3,000.
He said locals “do not want a situation like what I saw in the Ruhr basin” — the industrial heartland of western Germany that attracted large numbers of Turkish and other foreign-born laborers from the 1960s.
Eastern Germany still lags behind the west in income and wealth, and heavily-indebted Cottbus has long had to scrimp on fixing its roads and bridges or investing in its schools or kindergartens.
“Now many people are asking: ‘Where does all the money come from for the refugees’?” said Gross. “All of a sudden? That’s just not on!“
Margrit Koal, a 65-year-old doctor and AfD voter, said that since the election one month ago, she once more feels “hope.”
“I’m happy because there’s now a force in Germany that forms a counter-pole to the established parties,” said Koal.
Asked about the openly racist and revisionist remarks made by some AfD politicians, she said “every public person sometimes says things that they may regret later.”


Man killed in random knife attack at California steakhouse

Updated 22 April 2018
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Man killed in random knife attack at California steakhouse

  • The victim was dining with his family when the suspect came and stabbed him without warning
  • Police say suspect is a felon who had been convicted for burglary and unlawful sexual intercourse since the 1990s

LOS ANGELES: A homeless man who randomly stabbed a patron in a crowded Southern California restaurant to death as he was holding his daughter was reported just a few hours earlier for disruptive behavior, but police ultimately determined he was not a threat, authorities said Saturday.
Jamal Jackson, 49, is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of 35-year-old Anthony Mele. He was being held in Ventura County jail on a $1.5 million bail. It was unclear if Jackson, who is also a convicted felon, had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Mele and his wife were eating dinner with their 5-year-old daughter Wednesday at Aloha Steakhouse in the seaside city of Ventura. The girl was sitting on her father’s lap when prosecutors say Jackson walked up and stabbed Mele in the neck.
Prosecutor Richard Simon said customers and a restaurant employee followed Jackson out of the restaurant, even though he still had the knife. They kept track of him until Ventura police arrived and arrested him.
Mele was taken to a hospital and died Thursday after being taken off life support.
“It’s horrible,” Simon said. “You don’t think you’re going to be killed when you go out to dinner at a nice restaurant with your family and you didn’t do anything.”
Simon said the two men had not interacted before the attack.
“He was just sitting there with his daughter in his lap,” Simon said. “You’re not supposed to die that way.”
Mele’s loved ones started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for a funeral and to support his wife and daughter.
Mele’s Facebook page was filled with photos of his daughter and said he was a manager at an AT&T store.
Police confirmed that a bystander reported a man — who turned out to be Jackson — for disruptive behavior several hours before the stabbing.
According to the bystander, a man was yelling on the promenade not far from the beachside restaurant about three hours before the attack.
Patrol officers were out on other calls so command center staff monitored the man via a pier security camera system for more than 20 minutes before deciding he didn’t seem to be a threat, police said.
Police are asking anyone who spoke with Jackson during that time to contact investigators in the city 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles.
Jackson also had half a dozen contacts with police in Ventura since the beginning of the year, including an arrest after a physical fight at a park, said Commander Tom Higgins.
He was also stopped on March 31 after a passer-by reported he was brandishing a knife. Police searched his bag and found a knife but there was no victim so no charge was filed, Higgins said.
Jackson has a lengthy rap sheet including charges in San Bernardino County, Higgins said, as well as convictions for burglary and unlawful sexual intercourse dating back to the 1990s.
The killing prompted the Ventura City Council to increase police patrols in the area and add staff members to monitor security cameras, among other measures.
“We are extremely disheartened and infuriated by this criminal attack,” Mayor Neal Andrews said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this in our community. Nothing is more important than the safety of our visitors, residents and businesses.”
If convicted, Jackson faces up to 55 years in prison.