Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel
Photos taken in 2021 of the chancellor top candidates, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, Anna-Lena Baerbock of the Greens and Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats during different election campaigns in Germany. Elections will be on Sept.26. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 24 September 2021

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel
  • Merkel is stepping down after 16 years in power, and the race is wide open ahead of Sunday's parliamentary election
  • Polls show the outgoing leader's center-right Union bloc, with Armin Laschet as its candidate for chancellor

BERLIN: The contenders to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor sought to mobilize voters Friday as the election campaign neared its close.
They touted their credentials to lead Europe’s biggest economy into a new era as it grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
Merkel is stepping down after 16 years in power, and the race is wide open ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election. Polls show the outgoing leader’s center-right Union bloc, with Armin Laschet as its candidate for chancellor, a little behind or nearly level with the center-left Social Democrats, who have Finance Minister Olaf Scholz seeking the chancellorship.
The Greens, with Annalena Baerbock making the party’s first run for chancellor, are trailing in third place but could end up playing the kingmaker in forming a government.
Experts say one reason why this year’s German election is tighter and less predictable than usual is that the candidates are relative unknowns to most voters.
“It’s certainly not the most boring election,” University of Leipzig political scientist Hendrik Traeger said. “There were those in which Angela Merkel stood as the incumbent and it was simply a question of who she would govern with.”
This time, Merkel’s party has struggled to energize its traditional base, which has so far failed to warm to Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state.
“The key question is whether these voters will overcome the Laschet hurdle and vote for the Union despite Laschet” said Peter Matuschek of polling company Forsa. “Or will they abstain from the vote or even choose another party?”
Scholz, whose party has made steady gains in opinion polls during the campaign on the strength of his relative popularity, touted the outgoing government’s success in preserving jobs during the pandemic.
“What we have seen is that we are succeeding in avoiding the major economic and social crisis that otherwise would have hit us,” he said at a rally in Cologne. “We put a lot of money into bringing jobs and companies through this crisis, and today, we can say that we have succeeded. We see an upswing ahead of us.”
Scholz, who wants to raise Germany’s minimum wage and increase taxes for top earners, argued that anyone calling for tax relief for the rich now “can’t count, doesn’t understand anything about finance.”
The Union bloc, an alliance of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, contends that any tax increases would be counterproductive as the German economy recovers. Laschet said at a rally in Munich that it would be “exactly the wrong way” out of the pandemic.
“The pandemic is now in its final phase, and (the Social Democrats) are beginning again with their old socialist classics from the 80s — bureaucracy, tax increases, patronizing people,” he said.
Merkel declared that “for Germany to remain stable, Armin Laschet must become chancellor and (the Union) must be the strongest party.” She was making the second of three appearances in the final week of a campaign from which she has been largely absent.
Laschet praised Merkel’s record. “It’s up to us to carry this legacy forward,” he said. “If we get it wrong now, everything that was achieved in 16 years could be squandered.”
Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate, focused her pitch on fighting climate change, her party’s central issue.
“This election is a choice of direction,” she said in Duesseldorf. “This election is a climate election.”
“We can’t afford half-measures anymore,” said Baerbock, whose party wants to ramp up carbon prices and end the use of coal earlier than planned. “We need finally to have a climate government — with all its strength, with all its heart and with full passion.”
“Yes, it’s a risk to do something new, but where has government experience alone brought us, if that’s the standard for a parliamentary election?” asked Baerbock, the only candidate for chancellor who lacks government experience. “It has led us to a dead end.”
Tens of thousands of environmental activists staged a rally outside Germany’s parliament earlier Friday to demand that politicians take stronger action to curb climate change.
Migration has been less of a concern to many voters than in 2017. Foreign policy has not come up much during the campaign but became an issue during the final television debate Thursday, with the Greens calling for a tougher stance on China.
About 60.4 million Germans are eligible to vote for a new parliament on Sept. 26. The strongest party will be best-placed to form a governing coalition, though that isn’t automatic.
The business-friendly Free Democrats are angling for a place in government after pulling the plug on coalition talks after the 2017 election. The far-right Alternative for Germany is expected to do well in the country’s east, but other parties refuse to work with it.
The Left Party, which opposes NATO and German military deployments abroad, remains a possible governing partner for the Greens and Social Democrats, a prospect that has drawn alarm from conservatives. Friday’s center-right rally was larded with warnings that such an alliance would damage Germany’s economy and international standing.
Election officials say many more people will vote by mail this year due to the pandemic, but this isn’t expected to affect turnout significantly.


Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer
Updated 16 sec ago

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer

Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary denies ‘radicalizing’ MP’s killer
  • He said his words could not have played a role since his content was removed from social media sites 
  • Choudary, who vocally supported Daesh, was featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series

LONDON: Anjem Choudary, a notorious British hate preacher who has been jailed for terrorism-related charges, has denied radicalizing the man who murdered an MP last week.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, fatally stabbed Conservative Party MP Sir David Amess on Friday, and his former friends later told The Sun that he became radicalized when he started watching Choudary’s online videos.

Speaking to The Sun, Ali’s friends claimed the videos turned him from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”

But Choudary, who has been featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, called those accusations “spurious, non-verifiable chats.”

It was “questionable,” he said, that he radicalized Ali since he was unable to produce content online from 2015 to 2021, after being found guilty of supporting Daesh.

Choudary told the Daily Mail: “Even before any official statement by the police, they have apparently already decided that he was radicalized by me based on some spurious, non-verifiable chats with old school friends of Ali Harbi Ali years ago and mysterious YouTube clips of me. 

“In recent years, I have personally been unable to access the internet or deliver any lectures, let alone produce content on YouTube, from July 2015 when I was charged with supporting ISIS (another term for terror group Daesh) and July 2021 when my internet access and public speaking restrictions were finally lifted after release from prison in October 2018.

“Although I have delivered many talks and lectures over the years, there is currently no significant material to be found anywhere online due to its removal by social media companies at the behest of the UK authorities and others.

“It is therefore questionable as to how Ali Harbi Ali could have been ‘radicalized’ by YouTube clips of me,” he added.

Choudary has long drawn the ire of British authorities and the public for his hateful speeches and support for various terrorist organizations. His speeches have been associated with a series of terrorist attacks and extremist individuals in Britain.


Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts
Updated 51 min ago

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts

Pandemic has spurred engagement with online extremism: Experts
  • 7% more terror-related content reported in 2020 than preceding year
  • Most people referred to UK’s counter-extremism program have mixed, unclear or uncertain motivations

LONDON: Engagement with extremist content has proliferated over the last 18 months as people have been forced inside and online by COVID-19 lockdowns, experts have warned.

“What we’ve seen is evidence of spikes of online activity in a wide range of extremist issues during lockdown,” Jacob Davey, head of research and policy of far-right and hate movements at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told The Guardian.

“It is not just terrorist material but a broad cocktail of online harms, as people spent more time indoors.”

Last year, the UK’s Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit said over 7 percent more pieces of suspected terrorism content were reported to them during 2020 compared with the year before.

Paul Gill, a professor of security and crime science at University College London, said the nature of the terror threat was already evolving after the defeat of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in 2019. “That has meant there were already fewer directed plots and a rise in self-initiation,” he told The Guardian.

The on-off lockdowns of the past 18 months have only served to turbocharge this change, as associating in person became more difficult and social isolation from community and family created “a perfect storm of other risk factors for radicalization,” Gill said.

“If you have any grievance you can go online and find people who will validate your grievance, and make you feel like you are part of something,” he added.

An increasing number of terrorist attacks — or closely related cases — were “hard to define,” he said.

The UK is currently coming to terms with the murder of an MP at the hands of a suspected Islamist, but as Gill alluded to, the circumstances surrounding the murder are not immediately obvious.

Some have blamed Islamist extremism, while others cite a rising tide of online hatred against public officials.

According to MI5, Islamist extremism remains the greatest threat to British public safety, but other forms — such as right-wing extremism — remain a clear threat, as does the growing category of instances with a mixed, unclear or uncertain motive.

Of all referrals to Britain’s counter-radicalization program from 2019 to 2020, the latest period for which figures are available, 51 percent were in the MUU category, while the rest were split between Islamists and right-wing radicals, at 24 and 22 percent respectively.


15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India

15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India
Updated 19 October 2021

15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India

15 dead as heavy rains batter northern India
  • The Indian Meteorological Department extended and widened its weather alert on Tuesday
  • Television footage and social media videos showed residents wading through knee-deep water near Nainital lake

DEHRADUN: At least 15 people died and over a dozen were missing after landslides and flash floods triggered by several days of heavy rain hit northern India, officials said Tuesday.
Forecasters have also warned of more heavy rains in the coming days in the southern state of Kerala where floods have already killed at least 27 people since Friday.
Officials in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand said 10 people were killed in fresh landslides on Tuesday after five died in similar incidents on Monday.
Five of the deceased were killed after a cloudburst — an ultra-intense deluge of rain — triggered a landslide, completely burying a house along with its inhabitants in the town of Nainital early Tuesday.
“We have recovered five bodies from the disaster site and a further search is on,” local official Prateek Jain told AFP.
Another landslide in the northern Almora district left five people dead after huge rocks and a wall of mud demolished and engulfed their home.
The Indian Meteorological Department extended and widened its weather alert on Tuesday, predicting “heavy” to “very heavy” rainfall in the region for the next two days.
The weather office said several areas were drenched by more than 400 mm (16 inches) of rainfall on Monday, causing landslides and flooding.
Authorities ordered the closure of schools and banned all religious and tourist activities in the state.
Television footage and social media videos showed residents wading through knee-deep water near Nainital lake, a tourist hotspot, and the Ganges bursting its banks in Rishikesh.
More than 100 tourists were also stuck inside a resort in Ramgarh after the overflowing Kosi river deluged several localities.
Landslides are a regular danger in India’s Himalayan north, but experts say they are becoming more common as rains become increasingly erratic and glaciers melt.
Experts also blame construction work on hydroelectric dams and deforestation.
In February, a ferocious flash flood hurtled down a remote valley in Uttarakhand, killing around 200 people. At least 5,700 people perished there in 2013.
In the south, large parts of Kerala have been battered by floods and landslides since late last week, leaving at least 27 people dead.
Many dams in the state were nearing the danger mark and authorities were evacuating thousands to safer locations as major rivers overflowed.
India’s weather office said heavy rains will lash the state in the next two days after a brief reprieve on Tuesday.


Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target
Updated 19 October 2021

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland

CANBERRA, Australia: A net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 would be a “great positive” for Australia if it can be achieved through technology and not a carbon price, the prime minister said on Tuesday as he pressures government colleagues to commit to more ambitious action ahead of a climate summit.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, but his government colleagues have yet to approve the commitment he wants to net zero.
“If you have a credible plan ... with the proper transparencies Australia’s well known for, then it can be a great positive for Australia,” Morrison told Parliament, referring to the net zero target.
“If you have the right plan, ... if you have technology, not taxes,” Morrison added.
Morrison was a minister in the conservative coalition government that in 2014 repealed a carbon tax introduced by a center-left Labour Party government. The coalition continues to oppose any measures that would penalize polluters through a carbon price or tax.
The rural-based junior coalition partner, the Nationals party, are the major obstacle to Australia adopting net zero.
Nationals lawmakers have debated Cabinet’s draft climate policy for the past three days but remained bitterly divided by Tuesday.
They were shown government modeling on Tuesday that predicted the economic impacts of more ambitious climate targets.
Nationals Sen. Matt Canavan was among the lawmakers who did not believe the modeling.
“The party room here is being gaslighted and that’s kind of ironic given it’s being gaslighted by people who want to end the use of fossil fuels,” Canavan said.
The government rejected opposition calls to make the modeling public.
Morrison said the world’s responses would have “significant impacts on rural and regional Australia, but they also present significant opportunities.”
“The plans that the government are considering will ensure that we can deal with both the costs and the benefits, because we understand there are impacts, that this is not a road that is only ... where you’ll find opportunities,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he would make his government’s plans public before the next election, which is due by May.
Australia has not budged from its 2015 pledge at the Paris climate conference to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, despite many countries adopting far more ambitious targets.
Morrison is unlikely to persuade his colleagues to agree to a new 2030 target before he goes to Glasgow.
Reducing emissions is a politically fraught issue in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas. The nation is also one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.
The conservative government’s lack of ambition on climate change is regarded as a reason behind the government’s surprise reelection in 2019 and strong voter support in coal-rich Queensland state.
Morrison had argued that the Labor opposition’s pledge to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2050 would wreck the economy.


Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers
Updated 19 October 2021

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers
  • Air travel lanes now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands

SINGAPORE: Singapore on Tuesday began quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated passengers from eight countries, part of a plan to ease restrictions as the business hub gears up to live with the coronavirus.
The latest easing expanded a program that began with vaccinated air travel lanes with Germany and Brunei last month, and is now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
Singapore Airlines said flights from Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles and New York were scheduled to arrive Tuesday under the program.
“We have seen very strong demand for our Vaccinated Travel Lane flights,” the carrier said.
“This is across all cabin classes, as well as various travel segments including leisure, families, and business travel.”
Passengers arriving as part of this scheme — which will include South Korea from November 15 — will not have to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated and test negative for the virus before they depart and when they arrive.
To enable families to travel, Singapore has allowed entry to unvaccinated children aged 12 years and under if they are accompanied by someone flying under the scheme.
The city-state initially fought the COVID-19 pandemic by shutting borders, imposing lockdowns of varying intensity and aggressive contact tracing. But with more than 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, authorities are keen to revive the economy.
“Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said October 9, when he announced a raft of measures under the “Living with Covid-19” strategy.
The city-state is home to the regional offices of thousands of multi-national corporations, which rely on Singapore’s status as a business and aviation hub for their operations.
Singapore’s vaccinated travel lanes may also provide a shot in the arm for the pandemic-hammered airline and tourism industries, analysts said.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about five percent of Singapore’s GDP, said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Private Banking.
“We used to get 1.6 million tourists every month, our airport used to handle over a thousand flights a day pre-pandemic. Now it is just over 300 flights a day,” he said.
Statistics from the Singapore tourism board showed international visitor arrivals plunging to less than 2.8 million last year from a record 19.1 million in 2019.