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.


Pakistan orders custody for Hindu girls at center of quarrel with India

Updated 59 min 6 sec ago
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Pakistan orders custody for Hindu girls at center of quarrel with India

  • The teenagers left their home in mostly Muslim Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh on March 20 to be married in Punjab province
  • Police have detained ten people in the case over their marriages

KARACHI, Pakistan: A court in Pakistan on Tuesday ordered the government to take custody of two Hindu sisters allegedly kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, police said, a case that triggered a quarrel with Hindu-majority neighbor India.
Police say the teenagers left their home in mostly Muslim Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh on March 20 to be married in Punjab province, where the law does not bar marriages of those younger than 18, unlike Sindh.
“The girls appeared before Islamabad High Court on Tuesday morning,” Farrukh Ali, a police official in their home district of Gothki, said by telephone.
“The court has directed the deputy commissioner to take their custody,” he added, referring to an administration official in the Pakistani capital.
The court set a deadline of next Tuesday for the submission of a report into an inquiry ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan, and directed that the girls not return to Sindh until the case was resolved, broadcaster Geo Television said.
Police have detained ten people in the case over their marriages and registered a formal case of kidnapping and robbery by the teenagers, after complaints from their parents.
The incident prompted a rare public intervention by a top Indian official in its neighbor’s domestic affairs, when Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Twitter she had asked India’s ambassador in Pakistan for a report on news of it.
Pakistan was “totally behind the girls,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on social media in response to Swaraj’s Sunday message, but asked India to look after its own minority Muslims.
At a news conference on Sunday, he referred to religious riots in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
In Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, Pakistan accuses India of human rights violations, a charge New Delhi denies.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will seek a second term in a general election starting next month. He has taken a tougher stand toward Pakistan in the past five years.