Merkel narrowly elected to fourth term as German chancellor

The outcome of the secret ballot suggested 35 lawmakers of her new right-left coalition bloc voted against Angela Merkel. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Merkel narrowly elected to fourth term as German chancellor

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bruised by half a year of post-election coalition haggling, was Wednesday narrowly confirmed by parliament to her fourth and likely final term at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.
Lawmakers in Berlin’s glass-domed Reichstag voted 364-315 with nine abstentions for Merkel, who was then formally appointed by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before taking the oath of office.
The outcome of the secret ballot suggested 35 lawmakers of her new right-left coalition bloc voted against Merkel, giving her a thin nine-vote margin that opposition parties were quick to label a “rocky start” for a spent and joyless governing alliance.
Merkel, wearing a necklace in the national colors black-red-gold, nevertheless beamed with joy and relief as applause filled the Bundestag chamber, where her scientist husband Joachim Sauer and her 89-year-old mother Herlind Kasner were among the well-wishers.
For the veteran leader, the ceremony marked the end of a painful stretch of post-election paralysis, the deepest crisis of her 12-year career.
A right-wing populist rise in September elections weakened all mainstream parties and deprived Merkel of a majority, forcing her into another unhappy alliance with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The grand coalition, mockingly dubbed a “GroKo” in German, didn’t start as a “love marriage,” her designated vice chancellor and finance minister, the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, drily observed this week.
All coalition partners have nonetheless sought to allay fears that their marriage of convenience could break up mid-term, insisting they plan to jointly govern until 2021.
From 1600 GMT, Merkel sits down with her new cabinet, in which the SPD has wrested both the trophy posts of finance and foreign affairs to the dismay of a growing band of critics within her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
To quieten the dissent, Merkel has named a sometimes-outspoken critic, Jens Spahn, 37, as her new health minister and recently tapped a potential successor, new CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
“The chancellor was, from time to time, written off in the past six months,” Marianne Kneuer of Hildesheim University told Phoenix TV.
“Many in the party started thinking about the future after Angela Merkel... but at the same time Merkel has strengthened her position again.”
On Friday Merkel will head to Paris to discuss EU reform plans with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a March 22-23 summit, after a lengthy stretch in which Berlin was hamstrung on the European and world stage.
Macron warned in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily that, without Germany on board, “part of my project would be doomed to failure.”
“We are completely dependent on each other. I do not believe for one second that a European project without or against Germany could succeed.”
Merkel’s incoming coalition has broadly welcomed Macron’s bold reform plans, meant to reinvigorate the bloc and counter extremists and populists who have made major gains in Western democracies.
She has argued that the EU must increasingly look after its own interests in the era of US President Donald Trump, who has questioned long-standing transatlantic defense ties and threatened a trade war.
Berlin advocates closer EU cooperation on defense, immigration and plans for a European Monetary Fund. But it is lukewarm on the idea of a joint eurozone finance minister and rejects any pooling of debt.
The rise of populist fringe parties is also the central domestic threat for Merkel’s new coalition, which faces the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) as the biggest opposition party.
The AfD scored almost 13 percent in the election, capitalizing on public fears over a mass influx of more than one million refugees and migrants since 2015 and angrily demanding that “Merkel must go.”
The shock rise of the AfD has come at the expense of the CDU, its Bavarian CSU allies and especially the SPD, all of which suffered their worst results in decades in September.
While Merkel’s last GroKo had a crushing 80 percent parliamentary majority, the margin has shrunk to 56 percent.
To answer the new right-wing threat, designated interior minister Horst Seehofer has pledged a “zero tolerance” law-and-order drive and faster deportations of failed asylum-seekers.
His new interior super-ministry also covers “Heimat” or homeland affairs, a term much derided for evoking Alpine vistas, beer and bratwurst but intended to recapture claims to patriotism from the AfD.
Scholz has meanwhile promised to tackle another fear exploited by populists, of vanishing jobs in the age of globalization and rapid technological change.
“When we look at the Trump election, Brexit and the success of right-wing populist parties in many European countries,” Scholz said, “we see there is a clear need to find new answers to the challenges of the 21st century.”


New Zealand orders top-level inquiry into mosque massacres

Updated 25 March 2019
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New Zealand orders top-level inquiry into mosque massacres

  • "One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said
  • Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday ordered an independent judicial inquiry into whether police and intelligence services could have prevented the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15.
Ardern said a royal commission -- the most powerful judicial probe available under New Zealand law -- was needed to find out how a single gunman was able to kill 50 people in an attack that shocked the world.
"It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to how this act of terrorism occurred and how we could have stopped it," she told reporters.
New Zealand's spy agencies have faced criticism in the wake of the attack for concentrating on the threat from Islamic extremism.
Instead, the victims were all Muslims and the massacre was allegedly carried out by a white supremacist fixated on the belief that there was an Islamist plot to "invade" Western countries.
"One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said.
"New Zealand is not a surveillance state ... but questions need to be answered."
Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant, 28, who was arrested minutes after the attack on the mosques and has been charged with murder.
She said details of the royal commission were being finalised, but it would be comprehensive and would report in a timely manner.
It will cover the activities of intelligence services, police, customs, immigration and any other relevant government agencies in the lead-up to the attack.
The gunman livestreamed the attack online, although New Zealand has outlawed the footage as "objectionable content".
Ardern reiterated her believe it should not be aired.
"That video should not be shared. That is harmful content," she said when questioned about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan showing excerpts of the footage at campaign rallies for local elections this month.
Erdogan had angered both Wellington and Canberra with campaign rhetoric about anti-Muslim Australians and New Zealanders being sent back in "coffins" like their grandfathers at Gallipoli, a World War I battle.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters travelled to Istanbul to meet Erdogan and address an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Peters said OIC members were full of praise for the support New Zealand had offered its small, tight-knit Muslim community in the wake of the killings.
"A number of them were weeping and sobbing at the demonstration (of support) by non-Muslim New Zealand towards the Muslim victims," he told reporters.
"It was dramatic and I was told by countless ministers that they've never seen anything of that type."
The body of an Indian student killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks, meanwhile, was returned Monday to her grieving family in Kochi, where relatives remembered a bright young woman dedicated to her studies.
Ansi Alibava, 25, was the first of at least five Indians shot dead on March 15 to be repatriated.
The family planned to hold a funeral ceremony for the masters student in their nearby hometown of Kodungallur.