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.


Third of DR Congo Ebola cases are children: UN

Updated 36 min 33 sec ago
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Third of DR Congo Ebola cases are children: UN

BENI, DR CONGO: Children account for a third of Ebola cases in an outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with hundreds orphaned or isolated, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Nearly 300 people have died from the highly contagious disease since August in the restive east around the city of Beni.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said the organization and its partners had identified more than 400 children who have been orphaned or isolated during the outbreak.
“We are deeply concerned by the growing number of children confirmed to have contracted Ebola,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, returning from Beni.
“The earlier children infected with Ebola receive treatment in a specialized health facility, the greater their chances of survival. Community mobilization and public awareness activities are also crucial.”
After it was declared on August 1 — the tenth outbreak in DR Congo since 1976 — at least 285 people have died, according to the last health ministry update on December 9.
Nearly 44,000 people have been vaccinated.
The outbreak has hit an area already struggling with violence from armed groups.
In November, medical and vaccination efforts were briefly suspended and health workers evacuated after clashes between UN peacekeepers and fighters from the local Allied Democratic Forces militia.