US call for Syria troops divides German coalition

US call for Syria troops divides German coalition
The US has called on Germany to send military trainers, logistics specialists and technicians to help the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against Daesh. (File/Reuters)
Updated 07 July 2019

US call for Syria troops divides German coalition

US call for Syria troops divides German coalition
  • The US wants ground troops from Germany to partly replace their soldiers
  • A clear rejection of the American request came from Merkel’s junior coalition partners

BERLIN: Discord broke out in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition Sunday, after the United States urged the country to send ground troops to Syria as Washington looks to withdraw from the region.
“We want ground troops from Germany to partly replace our soldiers” in the area as part of the anti-Daesh coalition, US special representative on Syria James Jeffrey had told German media including Die Welt newspaper.
Jeffrey, who was visiting Berlin for Syria talks, added that he expects an answer this month.
Last year US President Donald Trump declared victory against Daesh and ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 American troops from Syria.
A small number have remained in northeastern Syria, an area not controlled by the regime of President Bashar Assad, and Washington is pushing for increased military support from other members of the international coalition against Daesh.
“We are looking for volunteers who want to take part here and among other coalition partners,” Jeffrey said.
A clear rejection of the American request came from Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).
“There will be no German ground troops in Syria with us,” tweeted a member of the interim SPD leadership, Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel.
“I don’t see people wanting that among our coalition partners” in Merkel’s center-right CDU, he added.
But deputy conservative parliamentary leader Johann Wadephul told news agency DPA that Germany should “not reflexively reject” the US call for troops.
“Our security, not the Americans’, is being decided in this region,” added Wadephul, seen as a candidate to succeed Ursula von der Leyen as defense minister if she is confirmed as European Commission chief.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
Washington has two goals in northeastern Syria: to support the US-backed Kurdish forces that expelled Daesh from northern Syria as they are increasingly threatened by Turkey, and to prevent a potential Daesh resurgence in the war-torn country.
The US is hoping Europe will help, pressuring Britain, France and now Germany, which has so far deployed surveillance aircraft and other non-combat military support in Syria.
However Germany’s history makes military spending and foreign adventures controversial.
Berlin sent soldiers to fight abroad for the first time since World War II in 1994, and much of the political spectrum and the public remains suspicious of such deployments.
As well as the SPD, the ecologist Greens, liberal Free Democrats and Left party all urged Merkel to reject the US request for troops.
The US appeal comes after Trump has repeatedly urged Berlin to increase its defense spending, last month calling Germany “delinquent” over its contributions to NATO’s budget.
But such criticisms have more often hardened resistance to forking out more on the military rather than loosening the country’s purse strings.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told business newspaper Handelsblatt on Saturday that Trump wanted “vassals” rather than allies.
“I’d have liked the federal government to tell him once or twice that it’s none of his business” how much Germany spends on defense, Schroeder said.
“This isn’t a banana republic here!“


Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting

Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting
Updated 8 min 18 sec ago

Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting

Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting
THE HAGUE: Protests against a curfew to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the Netherlands degenerated into clashes with police and looting in cities across the country Sunday, authorities and reports said.
Police used water cannon and dogs in Amsterdam, public television NOS reported, after hundreds gathered to protest the curfew which is set to last until February 10 and is the country’s first since World War II.
In the southern city of Eindhoven, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred, regional television Omroep Brabant reported. At least 30 people were arrested there, according to police.
A number of vehicles were burned and businesses at Eindhoven’s central train station were also looted, media reports said.
Dutch rail company NS called on travelers to avoid the Eindhoven station, where it said train circulation was interrupted due to the intervention of emergency services nearby.
Eindhoven mayor John Jorritsma told reporters that if the country continued “down this path, then I think we are heading for civil war.”
Incidents were also reported in The Hague, Breda, Arnhem, Tilburg, Enschede, Appeldoorn, Venlo and Ruremond.
A Covid-19 testing center was set on fire on Saturday evening in the village of Urk in the north of the country, local authorities said.
“The fire in a screening center in Urk goes beyond all limits,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Sunday.
Violators of the 9 p.m. to 4:30 am curfew, which Prime Minister Mark Rutte says is needed to bring case numbers down, face a 95-euro ($115) fine.
Exemptions are possible, in particular for people returning from funerals or those having to work, but on condition that they present a certificate.
Rutte also announced on Wednesday a ban on flights from Britain, South Africa and South America, and a cut in the number of guests allowed in people’s homes to one, from the previous limit of two.
New variants of the virus have led to deep concern in Europe, particularly a more infectious strain that first emerged in Britain.
The Netherlands was already under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.
Dutch lawmakers on Thursday approved Rutte’s curfew plan, though on condition that it begin half an hour later than the original 8:30 p.m. start time.
The move had faced criticism led by far-right politician Geert Wilders, who called it “careless” and “disproportionate.”
“I stand here for freedom. I lost it myself,” said Wilders, who has for years been under round-the-clock security after receiving death threats.
“I do not accept that we unnecessarily... introduce curfews while there are alternatives.”
Rutte and his cabinet resigned on January 22 over a scandal involving child tax benefits, but they will continue to govern until elections in mid-March.