Left-wing German Social Democrats lobby against Merkel alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with German Chief of Staff and interim Finance Minister Peter Altmaier at the Reichstag Parliament building in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Left-wing German Social Democrats lobby against Merkel alliance

BERLIN: Left-wing German Social Democrats lobbied party members on Saturday against joining Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in a re-run of their 2013-2017 alliance, a week before delegates are asked to back a coalition blueprint.
The push-back from the left wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) came a day after its leaders urged members to swallow their doubts and endorse a deal to renew a “grand coalition” with Merkel’s conservatives for another four years.
The SPD leaders face a tough task to convince members to approve the deal at a Jan. 21 party congress and again in a postal vote at the conclusion of formal coalition negotiations.
The leader of the SPD’s Jusos youth branch, Kevin Kuehnert, began a Germany-wide ‘No-GroKo’ tour to lobby party delegates to vote against the grand coalition. Others on the party’s left took to the airwaves to criticize the coalition blueprint.
“A general change in policy is not happening, and a strengthening of the right wing must be avoided,” Hilde Mattheis, who leads the left-wing DL21 SPD group, told Deutschland funk radio.
Many in the SPD rank-and-file are worried about allowing the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to become the largest opposition party in Parliament — a scenario that would unfold if their party joins the conservatives in coalition.
“The SPD would always be a bulwark against the right,” said Mattheis.
To win over the SPD, Merkel agreed in the coalition blueprint to €5.95 billion ($7.26 billion) of investment in education, research and digitalization by 2021, expanded child care rights, and a pledge to strengthen Europe’s cohesion with increased German contributions to the EU budget.
But some Social Democrats believe the deal lacked sufficient concessions to their party. They also fear a new grand coalition would further diminish the identity of the SPD, which suffered its worst result in the September election since 1933.
Even some senior party figures were not completely sold.
“There is a great deal of skepticism in the SPD about another grand coalition,” said Manuela Schwesig, SPD state premier in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
“For me, the skepticism is not completely gone either. But you have to face reality now,” she told NDR Info radio.
Should SPD delegates reject a tie-up with Merkel’s conservatives, she could try to form a minority government or Germany could face new elections.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who wants a stable coalition soon to end the political uncertainty hanging over Germany, expressed skepticism about a minority government, which would be a first in the post-war era.
He said there was “rightly” criticism of whether such a scenario was appropriate to overcome “the European crisis.”
“In the end, we should not forget that no one can be forced — including not by the president — to lead a minority government,” Steinmeier told Focus magazine.
Merkel has said she would favor new elections.


China distances children from families to subdue Muslim west

Updated 2 min 6 sec ago
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China distances children from families to subdue Muslim west

  • Uighurs fear that these measures are wiping out their ethnic identity, one child at a time
  • Meripet’s family is among tens of thousands swept up in President Xi Jinping’s campaign to subdue a sometimes restive region
ISTANBUL, Turkey: The Chinese government has turned four of Meripet’s children into orphans, even though she and her husband are alive.
The kids were left with their grandmother when the couple visited Meripet’s sick father in Turkey. But when Chinese authorities started locking up thousands of their fellow ethnic Uighurs for alleged subversive crimes such as travel abroad, a visit turned into exile.
Then, her mother-in-law was jailed, and Meripet learned from a friend that her 3- to 8-year-olds were placed in a de facto orphanage in the Xinjiang region.
“It’s like my kids are in jail,” Meripet said, her voice cracking.
Meripet’s family is among tens of thousands swept up in President Xi Jinping’s campaign to subdue a sometimes restive region, including the internment of more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. Now there is evidence that the government is placing the children of detainees and exiles into dozens of orphanages across Xinjiang.
The orphanages are the latest example of how China is systematically distancing young Muslims in Xinjiang from their families and culture, The Associated Press has found through interviews with more than a dozen Muslims and a review of procurement documents. The government has been building thousands of so-called “bilingual” schools where minority children are penalized for using their native languages instead of Mandarin. Some of these are boarding schools, which Uighurs say can be mandatory and, in a Kazakh family’s case, start from the age of five.
China says the orphanages help disadvantaged children and denies the existence of internment camps for their parents. It prides itself on investing millions of yuan in education in Xinjiang to steer people out of poverty and away from terrorism. The country also maintains that strong measures are necessary to kill extremism in a region where it says Uighur separatists were responsible for the deaths of hundreds in past years.
But Uighurs fear that these measures are wiping out their ethnic identity, one child at a time.
“If the kids are forced to speak Mandarin and live like Han Chinese every day, I’m afraid they won’t be like us anymore,” said Meriyem Yusup, whose extended family has four children sent to state-run orphanages in Xinjiang.
Experts say what China is doing echoes how white colonialists in North America and Australia treated indigenous children.
“What we’re looking at is something like a settler colonial situation where an entire generation is lost,” said Darren Byler, a researcher of Uighur culture at University of Washington.
Most of these families in China cannot be reached by journalists. However, the AP interviewed 14 Uighur families living in Turkey and one Kazakh man in Almaty with a total of 56 children who remain in China. The families say 14 appear to be in state-run orphanages and boarding schools, while the whereabouts of the rest are unknown because many of their adult relatives in Xinjiang have been detained. Some interviewees, like Meripet, requested that they be identified only by their first names because they feared official retaliation against their relatives.
Since the start of last year, the government has budgeted more than $30 million (200 million Chinese yuan) to build or expand at least 45 orphanages, with enough beds to house about 5,000 children, an AP review of procurement notices in Xinjiang shows. In July and August alone, the government invited bids for the construction of at least nine such centers. These numbers do not include kindergartens and other schools where some children of Uighur detainees are also being housed.
Shi Yuqing, a Kashgar civil affairs official, told the AP over the phone that “authorities provide aid and support to everyone in need, whether they’re the children of convicted criminals or people killed in traffic accidents.”
The Xinjiang government did not respond to repeated requests for government. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said Thursday the measures taken in Xinjiang were necessary for “stability, development, harmony.”
Meripet’s friend, who visited China last November, told her that her children are living in the Hotan City Kindness Kindergarten, where Meripet’s sister-in-law was permitted to take them home for one night only. The schoolyard’s entrance is blocked by an iron gate and adorned with the words “We Are Happy and Grateful to the Motherland.” Armed police officers surrounded AP reporters minutes after their arrival and ordered them to delete any photos.
Students at another kindergarten in Xinjiang were regularly asked by officials if their parents practiced religion at home, according to Dilnur, a 35-year-old business student in exile in Istanbul, whose children attended the school. A man was taken away by police after his grandson said in class that he had made a pilgrimage to Makkah, she recalled.
Some bilingual schools are boarding schools, which are not uncommon in China. Adil Dalelkhan, an ethnic Kazakh sock merchant in exile in Almaty, said that even though his then five-year-old son could live with relatives, he was forced to stay at his preschool Mondays through Fridays instead. The father called the policy a “terrifying” step toward extinguishing Kazakh culture.
An official Kashgar notice posted in February states that children in the fourth grade and above with parents in detention must be sent to boarding school immediately — even if one parent is still at home.
In Istanbul, the only child still with Meripet is her fifth, a son born in Turkey whom she calls “my only light.”
“I have only been able to keep living because I know there is hope,” she said. “I know one day I will see my children again.”
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Associated Press writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.