Merkel in final push for coalition to avert crisis

German Chancellor and chair of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel arrives for coalition talks in Berlin, on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Merkel in final push for coalition to avert crisis

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel will make a last push Sunday to forge a government, in a twin battle to save her political future and avert fresh elections that could destabilize Germany and Europe.
Elections in September had left the veteran leader weakened and without a majority as some of her party’s voters turned to the far-right AfD because of anger over her liberal refugee policy.
The disputed decision to let in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015 is also proving to be a stumbling block as she seeks an alliance with an unlikely group of parties spanning the left and right of the political spectrum.
Merkel’s conservative CDU party and its Bavarian allies the CSU, hoping to find common ground with the pro-business FDP and the Greens, have given themselves until Sunday to clinch a deal.
If they do not, Germany would have to hold new elections in 2018, as the center-left Social Democratic Party has ruled out returning to a coalition with Merkel after suffering a humiliating loss at September’s elections.
“Today is the last day of these exploratory talks. We must decide,” CSU chief Horst Seehofer said as he entered into talks Sunday.
Greens leader Cem Ozdemir also said that “so far we’ve been in extra time, but today it’s the penalty shoot-out.”
“Europe is anything but out of the crisis. Now it’s time to ask ourselves the question, Would France’s President Macron have to take the coal out of the fire because Germany is missing, or would Germany be capable of taking action?” Ozdemir added.
Merkel, who has years of gruelling EU negotiations under her belt, now needs to see through what is likely the most important weekend of her political life.
“Today is not only about (the coalition), but also a day of destiny for Angela Merkel. If she fails to forge a coalition, then her chancellorship is in danger,” the top-selling Bild newspaper said.
Frank Decker, a political scientist at the University of Bonn, also had no doubt about what is at stake.
“It is absolutely in her interest for this government to come into being, because failure would spell her end,” he told the Phoenix news channel.
A poll by Welt online found that 61.4 percent of those surveyed said a collapse of talks would mean an end to Merkel as chancellor. Only 31.5 percent thought otherwise.
Merkel, in power for 12 years, had initially set a Thursday deadline to decide if the motley crew of parties had found enough common ground to begin formal coalition negotiations.
But the talks went into overtime without a breakthrough.
Key among sticking points is the hot-button issue of immigration.
The CSU, which lost significant ground in Bavaria to the AfD and faces a crucial state election next year, wants to limit the number of future arrivals at 200,000 a year.
German media reports said the Greens were ready give way on the CSU’s demand, but in return, they insist that war refugees — who are granted only temporary protection — should be allowed to bring their family members to Germany.
“We will not accept that people who are already getting a lower status of protection by law are also excluded from family reunions. That is inhumane,” Greens negotiator Juergen Trittin told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
The Greens will be wary of making concessions ahead of a party congress in a week’s time, and rank-and-file members can still torpedo any deal that they deem unsatisfactory.
Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier played down the conflict, telling the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that if negotiators are “battling hard over major questions like migration and climate change, that may not be a bad thing for democracy.”
There is “no need to start holding panic debates about new elections,” he said.
He added that “all sides are aware of their responsibilities. And this responsibility means not returning their mandate to voters.”
If the potential tie-up, dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the parties’ colors match those of the Jamaican flag, comes together, it would be the first of its kind at the national level.
But questions abound about how stable it would be.
SPD parliamentary chief Andrea Nahles told the Funke media group she believed such an alliance would be “a coalition of mistrust, in which there is constant conflict, where each one plays his own cards, and where there isn’t teamwork.”
Decker, the political scientist, said he “wouldn’t place a bet on whether this government will hold together for four years.”


Thailand immigrant crackdown eyes ‘dark-skinned people’

This photo taken on October 18, 2018 shows Thai immigration bureau chief and police Major General Surachate Hakparn speaking to foreigners held for investigation in Bangkok's Patpong district during a police operation called "X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner". (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Thailand immigrant crackdown eyes ‘dark-skinned people’

  • Thailand’s reputation as a place to disappear and reinvent yourself combined with lax visa rules can be a headache for law enforcement
  • Thailand is not a party to the UN convention recognizing refugees and made headlines in 2015 for deporting more than 100 Uighurs back to China

BANGKOK: Allegedly aimed at busting visa abusers and illegal migrants, a Thai police operation called “X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner” has raised questions about racial profiling and fears for asylum-seekers caught in its web.
Tens of millions of tourists come to Thailand each year for the cheap living and postcard-perfect beaches, with some seeking out the seedier thrills of a bustling sex industry.
But as weak law enforcement, porous borders and corruption help make the country a hub for transnational crime, Thai authorities are intensifying Operation X-Ray — a program that started about a year ago — with more than 1,000 people arrested in recent weeks, most for overstaying their visa.
Although the vast majority caught in the dragnet are migrants from nearby countries, the racial overtones of the campaign have sparked concerns about profiling based on skin color.
“Our job is to classify who are the good dark-skinned people and who are the ones likely to commit crimes,” said immigration bureau chief Surachate Hakparn.
He told AFP that the operation was aimed at weeding out visa overstayers and nabbing criminals — especially “romance scammers” who lure lonely locals online to defraud them of cash.
He insisted that the romance scammers are often Nigerian or Ugandan.

At the start of one night time operation witnessed by AFP in Bangkok’s rowdy Nana district earlier this month, about 75 Thai police officers stood in rows at a briefing.
“The suspicious targets are the dark-skinned people,” shouted an officer. “First, we search their bodies, then we search their passports.”
Soon they began stopping suspects, including three people from Mali who were tested for drugs on the spot.
By 11:55 pm, almost 30 individuals — about half of whom were black — had been rounded up.
Only one was Caucasian, a Frenchman caught smoking marijuana.
Surachate’s staff said details on the breakdown of nationalities was “confidential.”
But in the first two weeks of October, police arrested a Korean citizen wanted by Interpol for sexual assault, and busted a team of four Nigerians and 16 Thais allegedly involved in romance scams, according to authorities.
They also found a Laos national who had overstayed his visa by more than 11 years.

Thailand’s reputation as a place to disappear and reinvent yourself combined with lax visa rules can be a headache for law enforcement.
The junta that seized power in 2014 justified its power grab by promising stability amid street protests and political upheaval.
But rights groups warn that refugees and asylum seekers who transit through Bangkok en route to a third country for resettlement are also being ensnared in the latest police operation as they lack legal protections.
According to rough estimates from the non-profit Fortify Rights, there are about 100 adults and 30 children who fit this description, mainly from Pakistan but also from Syria and Somalia.
“Thailand’s immigration crackdown has swept up refugees and asylum seekers, sent young children into horrid, prison-like conditions, and appears to have clear aspects of racial profiling against South Asians and Africans,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Thailand is not a party to the UN convention recognizing refugees and made headlines in 2015 for deporting more than 100 Uighurs back to China.
More than 70 Pakistani Christians were rounded up and detained this month by police under charges of illegal entry and overstay even though they were assumed to be in transit and escaping religious persecution in their Muslim-majority homeland.
But the authorities remain unapologetic.
According to immigration chief Surachate’s count, Thailand is home to more than 6,000 people who ought to have left the country already.
“In order to clean house, we need to bring in the good people and deport the bad people so that the country will have sustained stability,” he said.