Merkel quells party rebellion ahead of Germany coalition deal vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party, had a protracted struggle to put together a viable coalition for her fourth and possibly final term. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018
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Merkel quells party rebellion ahead of Germany coalition deal vote

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel will put a hard-fought coalition deal to a vote Monday by her conservative party, which is expected to give its approval after she moved to quash a rightwing rebellion.
Officials from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party she has led for nearly 18 years and steadily moved toward the political center, are gathering from 0900 GMT in Berlin.
The main aim of the meeting is to give the green light to a government pact hammered out in early February with the Social Democrats (SPD) after four months of political limbo in Europe’s economic powerhouse since a tricky general election.
Merkel paid a high price to break the impasse and coax the reluctant SPD back into a loveless “grand coalition,” which has ruled Germany for eight of her 12 years in power.
The deal included the CDU ceding control to the Social Democrats of the powerful finance ministry, seen by conservatives as a guarantor of budgetary rigor in Germany and the eurozone.
Merkel, once the seemingly invincible leader of her party and the nation, has looked severely weakened in recent months given her protracted struggle to put together a viable coalition for her fourth and possibly final term.
Opponents of her liberal refugee policy have grown more outspoken as the country’s major parties face pressure from the far-right AfD party, which has railed against a mass influx of more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.
To tamp down the rumblings, Merkel moved on Sunday to co-opt one of her most outspoken CDU critics by bringing him into her next cabinet as health minister.
Jens Spahn, 37, a former deputy to hard-liner Wolfgang Schaeuble at the finance ministry, has repeatedly slammed Merkel’s centrist policies, particularly on immigration.
He has also advocated a sharp conservative shift in a bid to woo back voters from the AfD, which garnered nearly 13 percent in the September election.
Announcing the new line-up, Merkel called Spahn “a representative of the younger generation” who she was convinced would play a constructive role.
“People sometimes make critical comments — Jens Spahn is not the only one and that’s OK,” she said.
“Nevertheless we have the task to do something good for Germany and that’s what he wants to do, just like all the other cabinet members.”
Merkel filled the remaining CDU ministries with loyalists, keeping Ursula von der Leyen at the defense ministry, putting close ally Peter Altmaier on the economic affairs brief and placing Julia Kloeckner in the agriculture job.
Two relatively obscure CDU politicians, Anja Karliczek and Helge Braun, are to take the education and chief-of-staff briefs respectively, said Merkel, noting that at 63 she will be the oldest member of the government.
The cabinet picks “are future-oriented — they bring together experience with new faces in a good mix,” Merkel said, but admitted it had required some “painful” choices.
Faced with calls to “renew” the party, Merkel last week tapped the popular female premier of Germany’s tiny Saarland state to take over as CDU general secretary, fueling speculation the veteran chancellor is lining up her successor.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, dubbed “mini-Merkel” by German media, is expected to be formally appointed at Monday’s meeting.
A staunch Catholic who despite her centrist stance has also advocated a tougher line on migration, Kramp-Karrenbauer was also seen as a wise choice to soothe internal discontent.
Carsten Linnemann, a Merkel skeptic in the party, welcomed the personnel choices but said it must go along with a return to conservatism.
“We need to set new priorities and show a clear profile, so the CDU is recognizable again and can hold its own in a grand coalition,” he told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper group.
The SPD still needs to approve the arrangement, with the results of a crunch membership ballot due to be announced on March 4.
If its members vote “no,” Germany faces more political paralysis and likely snap elections that would threaten an end to Merkel’s long tenure.


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 25 June 2019
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”