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Germany’s parliament has voted to legalize gay marriage days after Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped her opposition to a vote.

The reform grants gay couples now limited to civil unions full marital rights, and allows them to adopt children.

Angela Merkel’s political opponents were strongly in favor. However, the chancellor, who signaled her backing for a free vote only on June 26, voted against.

The bill was backed by 393 lawmakers, 226 voted against and four abstained.

According to the AFP, the German legal code will now read: “Marriage is entered into for life by two people of different or the same sex.”

Barack Obama has become the first sitting US president to back same-sex marriage

Following June 30 vote, Angela Merkel said that for her marriage was between a man and a woman. But she said she hoped the passing of the bill would lead to more “social cohesion and peace”.

Image source Getty

During her 2013 election campaign, Angela Merkel argued against gay marriage on the grounds of “children’s welfare,” and admitted that she had a “hard time” with the issue.

However, in an on-stage interview with the women’s magazine Brigitte on June 26, Angela Merkel shocked the German media by saying, in response to an audience member’s question, that she had noted other parties’ support for gay marriage, and would allow a free vote at an unspecified time in the future.

Xavier Bettel Marriage: Luxembourg PM Marries Partner Gauthier Destenay

Angela Merkel also said she had had a “life-changing experience” in her home constituency, where she had dinner with a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children together.

As the news spread on Twitter, supporters rallied under the hashtag #EheFuerAlle (MarriageForAll) – and started calling for a vote as soon as possible.

Angela Merkel’s current coalition partners – the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who are trailing her Christian Democrats (CDU) in opinion polls – then seized the political initiative.

They called for a vote by the time parliament went into summer recess at the end of the week – prompting Angela Merkel to complain she’d been “ambushed”.

A recent survey by the government’s anti-discrimination agency found that 83% of Germans were in favor of marriage equality.

The day after the Republic of Ireland voted to legalize gay marriage in May 2015, almost every German newspaper splashed a rainbow across its front page.

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Donald Trump has said German Chancellor Angela Merkel made “one very catastrophic mistake” by admitting more than 1 million refugees.

The president-elect said Angela Merkel was by far Europe’s most important leader, and that the EU had become a vehicle for Germany.

Donald Trump was giving details of his foreign policy goals in an interview with British and German newspapers, Times and Bild.

He told the publications his priority was to create fairer trade deals for the US and have strong borders.

Donald Trump said the United States had to address its trade deficit with the rest of the world, particularly with China.

The emphasis for his administration should be smart trade, rather than free trade, the president-elect said.

The interview was conducted for the Times by UK’s lawmaker Michael Gove, who played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign that led to Brexit, and who also has a column in the newspaper.

An image of Michael Gove and Donald Trump giving a thumbs-up at New York’s Trump Tower, where they met, was shared on Twitter.

Image source Flickr

Asked about a possible deal with Russia, Donald Trump said nuclear weapons should be part of it and “reduced very substantially”, in return for lifting US sanctions.

Turning to the Middle East, Donald Trump condemned the 2003 invasion of Iraq as possibly the worst decision ever made in the history of the country, and said safe zones should have been created within Syria and paid for by the United States’ Gulf allies.

In a separate interview with the Washington Post, Donald Trump said he was close to finalizing a replacement for President Barack Obama’s healthcare program, the Affordable Care Act.

Donald Trump gave few details, other than saying there would be healthcare for everybody and that costs would be lower.

The president-elect said he was waiting for his nominee for health secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed, before unveiling the plan.

Donald Trump also spoke about the UK and Brexit, saying he thought the UK was “so smart in getting out” of the EU.

“Countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity,” he said.

“I think you’re doing great, I think it’s going great.”

Donald Trump predicted that more countries would follow the same path.

“I think people want . . . their own identity, so if you ask me … I believe others will leave.”

During the interview, Donald Trump said he thought Angela Merkel was the “by far the most important European leader”.

“If you look at the European Union, it’s Germany – it’s basically a vehicle for Germany,” he said.

“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals.”

Donald Trump linked the migrant issue with the UK referendum vote to leave the EU.

“I do believe this, if they [EU countries] hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it . . . entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.

“It probably could have worked out but this was the final straw, this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Donald Trump repeated his vow to be tough on immigration into the US.

“People don’t want to have other people coming in and destroying their country. In this country we are going to go very strong borders from the day I get in,” he said.

The president-elect also stressed that he would “start off trusting both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mrs. Merkel” on taking office, but would “see how long that lasts”.

Talking about international security, Donald Trump argued that he had said “a long time ago that NATO had problems”.

“One: that it was obsolete because it was designed many many years ago, and number two: that the countries weren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay.”

He said that only five countries were paying what they should into the NATO budget.

“Five. It’s not much… With that being said, NATO is very important to me.”

Donald Trump was also asked if he would continue to use Twitter after his inauguration, and said he would keep up his habit of publishing streams of messages on the social network.

“It’s working – and the tweeting, I thought I’d do less of it, but I’m covered so dishonestly by the press, so dishonestly,” he said.

“I can go bing bing bing . . . and they put it on and as soon as I tweet it out. This morning on television Fox: <<Donald Trump, we have breaking news>>.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that she will run for a fourth term in office.

Speaking at a meeting of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin, Angela Merkel said she expected her toughest campaign to date, and vowed to “fight for our values and our way of life”.

General elections are expected in Germany in 2017.

Angela Merkel’s poll ratings have slipped since the height of her popularity but she retains wide support.Angela Merkel on migrant crisis

The center-right chancellor, who has been in office since 2005, is being challenged by the populist right-wing AfD party.

Angela Merkel announced she would stand again after meeting party leaders at CDU headquarters.

She told reporters that the decision to run for a fourth term had been “anything but trivial after 11 years in office”.

Angela Merkel added that she expected challenges from both the right and the left of the political spectrum.

In September, she accepted responsibility for election defeats for the CDU in several states and conceded that her open-door policy towards migrants was a factor.

Germany expected up to 300,000 refugees to arrive in the country in 2016, the head of the country’s federal office for migration and refugees said earlier this year.

In 2015, Germany received more than a million applications for asylum.

A pastor’s daughter who grew up in communist East Germany, Angela Merkel has run the united country since 2005.

If she wins next year’s elections, Angela Merkel would equal the post-war record set by Helmut Kohl, who was chancellor from 1982 to 1998.

Germany does not have term limits on the country’s top job.

 

Angela Merkel has admitted migrant policy mistakes are linked to her CDU party’s defeat in Berlin state elections.

The German Chancellor voiced regret over mistakes that contributed to last summer’s refugee crisis in Germany. More than a million migrants reached Germany – a record.

“If I could, I would turn back time for many, many years, to prepare better,” Angela Merkel told reporters.

The center-right CDU can no longer run Berlin with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Angela Merkel’s party won 17.6% of the vote – its worst-ever result in Berlin.Angela Merkel Cologne attacks

The chancellor conceded that her open-door policy towards refugees – embodied in her phrase “wir schaffen das” (we can manage it) – was a factor in the election. She has now distanced herself from that phrase, calling it “a sort of simplified motto”.

Angela Merkel has been widely criticized in Germany for the policy, which was a humanitarian gesture faced with the desperate plight of migrants, many of them refugees from the war in Syria.

The right-wing, anti-migrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) will enter the Berlin state parliament for the first time with 14% of the vote.

The AfD is now represented in 10 of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments. Earlier this month it pushed the CDU into third place in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Looking back at the migrant crisis, Angela Merkel defended her policy as “absolutely correct on balance, but ultimately it meant that for a long time we did not have enough control”.

“Nobody wants a repeat of that situation – including me.”

Angela Merkel said she needed to work harder to explain her refugee policies.

The SPD emerged as the strongest party with about 22%, in spite of losing almost 7% of its voters, and said it would hold talks on forming a coalition with all parties except AfD. It is expected to drop the CDU as a coalition partner in favor of the left-wing Die Linke and the Greens.

September 18 election in Berlin, a city-state of 3.5 million people, was dominated by local issues including poor public services, crumbling school buildings, late trains and a housing shortage, as well as problems in coping with the migrant influx.

AfD co-chairman Joerg Meuthen said the party was strongly positioned for 2017 national elections and colleague Beatrix von Storch predicted that it would become the third largest political force in Germany next year.

“We’re witnessing in 2017 Angela Merkel’s battle for survival,” Beatrix von Storch said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU has suffered historic losses in Berlin state elections.

The CDU has been ousted from the state governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats.

Meanwhile the right-wing anti-migrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) made gains and will enter the state parliament for the first time.Angela Merkel on migrant crisis

Angela Merkel’s popularity has waned since her 2015 decision to allow more than a million refugees into Germany.

The CDU won 17.6% of the vote – its worst-ever result in Berlin.

It is the party’s second electoral blow in two weeks, having been pushed into third place by the AfD in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania at the beginning of the month.

The Social Democrat Party (SPD) has emerged as the strongest party with about 22%, in spite of losing almost 7% of their voters.

The strong showing of the AfD, 14%, has prompted its co-chairman Joerg Meuthen to say the party was strongly positioned for 2017 national elections.

The AfD is now set to be represented in 10 out of 16 state parliaments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU party has been beaten into third place by anti-immigrant and anti-Islam the Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) in regional elections in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, partial results have shown.

The AfD party took about 21% of the vote behind the centre-left SPD’s 30%.

Angela Merkel’s CDU was backed by only about 19% of those who voted, according to the partial results.

Today’s vote was seen as a key test before German parliamentary elections in 2017.Angela Merkel on Greece debts

Before it, all of Germany’s other parties ruled out forming a governing coalition with the AfD.

However, the AfD’s strong showing could weaken Angela Merkel ahead of the national elections next year.

Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, in the former East Germany, is where the chancellor’s own constituency is located.

Under Angela Merkel’s leadership, Germany has been taking in large numbers of refugees and migrants – 1.1 million in 2015 – and anti-immigrant feeling has increased.

The AfD, initially an anti-euro party, has enjoyed a rapid rise as the party of choice for voters dismayed by Angela Merkel’s policy.

However, its political power is limited and critics accuse it of engaging in xenophobic scaremongering.

The CDU has been the junior coalition partner in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania since 2006 and is likely to remain in the governing coalition. However, its 19% in the election is its worst ever result in the state, German broadcasters said.

Addressing supporters, local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm said: “Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship today.”

Voters in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania are going to the polls in a vote seen as a test of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies towards migrants and refugees.

The anti-migrant and anti-Islam Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) could get more votes than Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

This would weaken Angela Merkel ahead of national elections in 2017.

However, all Germany’s other parties have ruled out forming a governing coalition with the AfD.

So the AfD stands no chance of forming a government in the state.

However, the party has seen huge gains in various regional elections over the last year.Angela Merkel on migrant crisis

Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, in the former East Germany, is where Angela Merkel’s own constituency is located.

Polls show Merkel’s CDU polling behind the AfD, and the chancellor told voters in the state: “It’s going to be a tight race – every vote counts.”

One voting intentions poll showed the centre-left Social Democrats first with 28%, while the AfD edged ahead of the CDU with 23% to 20%.

The AfD is believed to be attracting voters away from the center-right CDU.

Germany is taking in large numbers of refugees – 1.1 million in 2015 – and anti-immigrant feeling has increased.

The AfD, initially an anti-euro party, has become the outlet of choice for voters frustrated by the chancellor’s policy of welcoming migrants.

The party’s slogan nationwide is: “Let’s end asylum chaos.”

On September 3, Angela Merkel told Bild newspaper: “We did not reduce benefits for anyone in Germany as a result of the aid for refugees. In fact, we actually saw social improvements in some areas.

“We took nothing away from people here. We are still achieving our big goal of maintaining and improving the quality of life in Germany.”

Only 2% of refugees arriving in Germany have gone to live in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

The US will send 250 additional military personnel to Syria to support local militias in the fight against ISIS, officials have said.

The goal, they say, is to encourage more Sunni Arabs to join Kurdish fighters in north-eastern Syria.

The new deployment will bring to 300 the number of US forces in non-combat roles in Syria.

Most of the additional personnel will be special operation forces, the AP reports. The group will also include medical and logistical troops, it adds.

A formal announcement is expected from President Barack Obama during his visit to Hannover on April 25, where he will discuss Syria and other foreign policy issues with leaders of the UK, Germany, France and Italy.

Barack Obama has resisted calls to send US troops into Syria, where a five-year-old conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced some 11 million others.Syrian rebels to succeed ISISisis

Of those, four million have fled abroad, including growing numbers who are making the dangerous journey to Europe.

The crisis has put pressure on leaders there, who are struggling to halt a massive influx of migrants and refugees.

Speaking alongside Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 24 urged warring parties to set up safe zones in Syria where refugees would be protected within the country.

Angela Merkel expressed hope that such a plan might eventually be agreed at peace talks taking place in Geneva.

Barack Obama, however, said it would be “very difficult” for those zones to work without a large military commitment.

ISIS has lost parts of the territory it once controlled in Syria. Most recently, they were pushed back by Russian-backed Syrian forces from the strategic city of Palmyra.

The group has also had significant setbacks in Iraq, including the loss of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

The US has led a coalition against the militant group in both Syria and Iraq.

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Top EU delegates and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to visit the Turkish-Syrian border to promote a controversial month-old refugee deal.

The visit comes amid questions over the legality of the EU-Turkey pact, which deports back to Turkey refugees who do not qualify for asylum in Greece.

However, human rights groups say Turkey is not a safe place to return people.

Turkish officials have warned the deal could collapse if demands for visa-free EU travel for its citizens are not met.

The agreement says Turkey must meet 72 conditions by May 4 to earn the visa waiver, but diplomats say only half of those points have been met so far.Angela Merkel on migrant crisis

Angela Merkel is expected to visit a refugee camp in the southern city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, where she will meet Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu.

The German chancellor will travel with the European Council President, Donald Tusk, and the EU Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans.

Angela Merkel has faced opposition in Germany for her migration policies and has defended the deal with Turkey despite opposition from some European partners.

Her trip comes as she faces additional pressure for agreeing to the prosecution of German comedian Jan Boehmermann accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Advocates of freedom of speech in both Turkey and Germany have called on Angela Merkel to send out a strong message on the issue during her visit.

The goal of the EU-Turkey deal is to deter refugees, mainly Syrians and Iraqis, from making the crossing between Turkey and Greece.

Under the agreement, refugees who have arrived illegally in Greece since March 20 are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

The scheme has reduced sharply the number of arrivals, from more than 56,000 in February to around 7,800 over the past 30 days, according to the European Commission.

However, the International Organization of Migration said unofficial data for arrivals in Greece in recent days suggested the numbers were picking up again.

The promised relocation to EU countries seems to be slow as nations are reluctant to take in more refugees – 103 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey to Europe, the commission said.

In March 2016, EU border agency Frontex requested 1,550 extra staff to help oversee the deal, but so far only 340 police officers and experts have been sent.

Rights organizations have attacked the scheme, with Amnesty International saying that Turkey has illegally returned Syrians to their country, a charge Ankara denies.

The EU has pledged up to $6.8 billion in aid to Turkey over the next four years.

Ankara, however, expects more, including visa liberalization, a point which faces opposition of some EU members.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month: “If the European Union does not take the steps it needs to take, if it does not fulfill its pledges, then Turkey won’t implement this agreement.”

Turkey already hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, at a cost of over $10 billion, the government says.

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German comedian Jan Boehmermann could be prosecuted for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Turkish president filed a complaint.

Jan Boehmermann had recited a satirical poem on television which made sexual references to Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Under German law, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had to approve a criminal inquiry.

Angela Merkel stressed that the courts would have the final word, and it was now up to prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.

The chancellor added that her government would move to repeal the controversial and little-used Article 103 of the penal code, which concerns insults against foreign heads of state, by 2018.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

Jan Boehmermann is a satirist and TV presenter well-known for pushing the boundaries of German humor. He was given police protection earlier this week.

Some experts say the comedian has a strong defense against potential charges, because his poem could be seen as part of a wider piece of satire about free speech, rather than a deliberate insult.

An earlier remark by Angela Merkel that the poem was “deliberately offensive” had led to accusations in Germany that she was not standing up for free speech.

The poem was broadcast on ZDF TV two weeks ago. The public TV channel has decided not to broadcast Boehmermann’s weekly satire program this week because of the furor surrounding him.

Before announcing that Jan Boehmermann could be prosecuted, Angela Merkel stressed her government expected Turkey to comply with EU democratic norms in the areas of free speech and judicial independence.

“In a state under the rule of law, it is not a matter for the government but rather for state prosecutors and courts to weigh personal rights issues and other concerns affecting press and artistic freedom,” the chancellor said.

“The presumption of innocence applies,” Angela Merkel added, explaining that she was not making any prejudgement about Jan Boehmermann.

In her statement in Berlin, Angela Merkel said that the approval of the federal government was a legal precondition for the prosecution of this specific offence.

“The foreign office, the justice ministry, the interior ministry and the chancellery took part in this review,” she said.

“There were diverging opinions between the coalition partners… The result is that in the present case the federal government will grant its approval.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn much criticism in Turkey and internationally for attacking opponents, including harassment of journalists. Many accuse him of authoritarian methods, stifling legitimate dissent and promoting an Islamist agenda.

Some Germans worry that Angela Merkel is compromising on freedom of expression in order to ensure Turkey’s continued co-operation to stem the influx of refugees into the EU.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced tougher refugee laws after the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne.

Angela Merkel has proposed changes to make it easier to deport asylum-seekers who commit crimes on German territory.

The attacks, which victims say were carried out by men of North African and Arab appearance, have called into question the German chancellor’s open-door migrant policy.

The police’s handling of the events has also been sharply criticized.

The anti-immigrant Pegida movement is due to protest in Cologne.

Angela Merkel, speaking after a meeting of her Christian Democrat party leadership in Mainz, proposed tightening the law on denying the right of asylum for those who have committed crimes.Angela Merkel Cologne attacks

Under the new plans, those on probation could be deported too.

“When crimes are committed, and people place themselves outside the law…there must be consequences,” Angela Merkel told reporters after the meeting.

Under current German laws, asylum seekers are only forcibly sent back if they have been sentenced to at least three years, and providing their lives are not at risk in their countries of origin.

The move, which will still need parliamentary approval, follows the New Year’s Eve attacks, which sparked outrage in Germany.

Victims described chaos as dozens of assaults and robberies were carried out with little apparent response from the authorities around the city’s main station.

Twenty-one people are being investigated for assault.

The identification of the attackers in Cologne as North African or Arab in appearance has caused alarm in Germany because of the influx of more than a million refugees in 2015.

Meanwhile German officials have warned that anti-immigrant groups have been trying to use the attacks to stir up hatred.

Similar attacks to those seen in Cologne were also reported in Hamburg and in Stuttgart on New Year’s Eve. In Bielefeld, hundreds of men tried to force their way into nightclubs Die Welt reports.

Police said several women had alleged assault.

As the investigation into the Cologne attacks continues, federal authorities say they have identified 18 asylum-seekers among 31 suspects. However, they are suspected of theft and violence, but not assault.

The suspects include nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, five Iranians, four Syrians, two Germans and one each from Iraq, Serbia and the United States.

Separately to the federal investigation focusing on what happened at the station itself, Cologne police are investigating 21 people in connection with the assaults. It is not known how many of these are asylum-seekers.

The North Rhine-Westphalia state police have recorded 170 complaints of crimes, 117 of which involve assault. There were two allegations of rape.

The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ralf Jaeger said on January 8 that he had suspended police chief Wolfgang Albers from his duties.

Wolfgang Albers has been accused of holding back information about the attacks, in particular about the origin of the suspects.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been named as Time’s Person of the Year for 2015.

Time Magazine cited Angela Merkel’s role in Europe’s crises over migration and Greek debt.

Angela Merkel had provided “steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply”, editor Nancy Gibbs wrote.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named runner-up and third place went to US presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Nancy Gibbs wrote of Angela Merkel: “For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is <<Time’s Person of the Year>>.”Angela Merkel Time Person of the Year 2015

Citing the refugee and Greek economic crises, along with the Paris terror attacks, Nancy Gibbs said: “Each time Merkel stepped in. Germany would bail Greece out, on her strict terms. It would welcome refugees as casualties of radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it.

“And it would deploy troops abroad in the fight against ISIS [Islamic State]. You can agree with her or not, but she is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow.”

Time also noted Angela Merkel’s leadership during what it called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “creeping theft of Ukraine”.

Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said: “I am sure the chancellor will cherish this as an incentive in her job.”

After the award was announced Donald Trump tweeted: “I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite. They picked person who is ruining Germany.”

While Time runs a poll for readers to vote, the decision on winners is made independently by the editors.

Angela Merkel, 61, joins an eclectic list of former winners, including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon.

She is only the fourth woman since 1927 to be named an individual winner outright and the first in 29 years.

The other individual women to win were Wallis Simpson (1936), Queen Elizabeth II (1952) and Corazon Aquino (1986).

Soong Mei-ling won jointly with her husband Chiang Kai-shek in 1937, three women won as Whistleblowers in 2002 and the award went generically to American Women in 1975.

China has signed a $17 billion deal to buy 130 Airbus jets during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Beijing.

Angela Merkel met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the capital.

The contract includes 30 wide-body A330s and 100 narrow-body A320s.

Earlier this year, Airbus agreed to build a new assembly facility in China’s northern port of Tianjin.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The European aerospace consortium is engaged in a battle with US-based Boeing for dominance in the growing Chinese market.

“We are grateful to CAS [China Aviation Supplies], one of our longest standing customers, for its continued confidence in Airbus and in the versatile A330 Family as well as the best-selling A320 Family,” said Airbus president Fabrice Bregier in a statement.

In August, Boeing said China was expected to add 6,330 new aircraft to its commercial fleet by 2034.

Airbus has headquarters in Germany and France.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that all EU countries must be prepared to send security staff to the bloc’s external borders.

Speaking as she arrived at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Angela Merkel said it would be unfair to ask EU countries seeing the majority of initial refugee entries to secure borders as well.

The meeting aims to secure Turkey’s agreement to a plan to halt the flow of refugees trying to reach Europe.

Nearly 600,000 refugees have reached the EU by sea so far this year.

Describing the current situation as “very disorderly”, Angela Merkel said: “It’s quite obvious that only a few countries today take the majority of refugees and if these countries now are asked to secure the external borders on top of that, I don’t think it would be what we could call a fair distribution of effort.”

The summit aims to tackle the migration crisis by working with non-EU countries, protecting the EU’s external borders and ensuring some migrants are sent back.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

Estonian PM Taavi Roivas said immediate action was needed to preserve the EU’s borderless Schengen area, which has come under increasing pressure, with some states reintroducing controls to prevent migrants from crossing borders.

Meanwhile Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban said his country would decide whether to close its border with Croatia by October 16.

Hungarian state TV reported Viktor Orban as saying he would prefer the EU to defend its external border in Greece but could seal its Croatian border “within an hour if necessary”.

There were also calls for member states to address the causes of migration by providing more money for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and for development in Africa.

“Member states need to put their money where their mouth is,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Meanwhile, EU negotiators in Ankara are making “good progress” in talks with Turkish officials, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Turkey is hosting some two million refugees, most of them fleeing the war in neighboring Syria.

It has also called for the establishment of an international “safe zone” for refugees inside northern Syria.

The 28 EU leaders meeting in Brussels are hoping the Turkish government will sign up to a joint action plan that includes: greater financial and procedural support for Turkey to deal with refugees; gaining permission from Turkey to help patrol its coastline; combating people smuggling; strengthening return operations.

Turkey is expected to press for progress towards visa-free travel for its citizens to European countries within the so-called Schengen area.

About two million people have fled to Turkey in more than four years of conflict in Syria. Every week thousands seek to enter the EU – typically via Greece – with many heading towards northern Europe.

Germany accepted the largest number of asylum claims in 2014 and expects to see as many as 800,000 in 2015. Sweden had the second-highest number of asylum seekers.

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According to German media, the number of refugees seeking asylum in Germany this year will be as high as 1.5 million – almost double the previous estimate.

The German government has not confirmed the new estimate, which comes from an internal official report cited by popular daily Bild.

The report warns that services helping refugees will not be able to cope.

Separately, a centre-right regional minister put the expected total at 1.2-1.5 million for 2015.

The German government previously estimated the number of asylum claims this year to reach 800,000 to one million in total.

Many are refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but there are also many economic migrants from the Balkans, Asia and Africa.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has warned that Europe, in dealing with the migration crisis, is engaged in a “battle of compassion versus fear, and of tolerance versus xenophobia”.Syrian refugees in Germany

Speaking in Geneva, Antonio Guterres said the world was facing the highest levels of forced displacement in recorded history and the principle of asylum must remain sacrosanct.

He urged Europe to defend “its founding values of tolerance and openness by welcoming refugees of all religions”.

The leaders of Hungary and Slovakia have said the influx of Muslims is a challenge to Europe’s “Christian” identity.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to meet EU leaders in Brussels shortly to discuss the Syria crisis, which has fuelled an exodus of Syrians to the EU via Turkey.

Greek islands near the Turkish coast are overburdened with migrants, many of them Syrians determined to reach Germany. The crisis has strained EU relations with Turkey, a mainly Muslim country.

On October 4, several thousand Germans opposed to mass immigration demonstrated in two eastern towns – Plauen and Sebnitz – after a call to action by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement.

PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West) has staged regular anti-immigration marches across Germany.

The migrant influx is stretching resources in many German cities, including Hamburg, where empty commercial properties can now be seized in order to house migrants.

There is growing political pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who continues to defend her open-door refugee policy. Germany can manage, the chancellor insisted at the weekend.

Many German politicians – including her conservative Bavarian CSU allies and various EU partners – have criticized the policy.

The Interior Minister of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania region, Lorenz Caffier, gave an estimate of 1.2-1.5 million asylum claims for this year.

However, federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it was very hard to give accurate figures. Some refugees either avoided registration or moved elsewhere after being registered in one place, he said.

In 2014, the national total for asylum claims was 202,000.

German parliament has voted by a large majority to approve a third bailout deal for Greece.

In total 453 members of parliament voted in favor, while 113 rejected the bailout and 18 abstained.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier warned parliament that it would be “irresponsible” to oppose the €86 billion ($95 billion) package.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right conservative bloc has been divided over the deal.

Prior to the vote nearly 60 of Angela Merkel’s members of parliament had indicated they would vote against the rescue package.

In total 47 members of parliament did not attend the session.German parliament Greek bailout

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat (CDU) party and its Bavarian CSU allies hold 311 seats in the 631-seat Bundestag. Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the Social Democrats, supported the deal, as did the opposition Greens.

Last month, 65 CDU/CSU politicians refused to support even starting negotiations for a third bailout.

On August 18, the parliaments of Austria, Estonia and Spain backed the bailout.

The Dutch parliament also debated the bailout on August 19, after anti-EU Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders insisted members of parliament should be recalled from their summer recess.

The vote by German parliament was the final hurdle before the first installment of the package – €13 billion – could be released, in time for Greece to repay €3.2 billion on August 20 to the European Central Bank (ECB).

Doubts remain about the Greek government’s commitment to the bailout conditions because it previously pledged to oppose austerity.

In exchange for the bailout – and keeping Greece in the euro – PM Alexis Tsipras agreed to further painful state sector cuts, including far-reaching pension reforms.

The new loans will be spread over the next three years. The first tranche of €26 billion will include €10 billion to recapitalize Greek banks.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized for appearing to be unsympathetic when a 14-year-old Palestinian refugee described what her life was like under threat of deportation.

Angela Merkel had told Reem Sahwil that not all migrants can stay in Germany.

However, Reem Sahwil has defended the way Angela Merkel dealt with her after she burst into tears while talking about her future.

Angela Merkel “listened to me and she also told me what she thinks about it, and I think that’s OK,” Reem Sahwil told ARD TV.

The conversation took place during a government-organized forum for young people, which was filmed and then broadcast.

In the video, Reem Sahwil tells Angela Merkel that her family had been waiting four years to gain permanent residency in Germany.Angela Merkel crying Palestinian refugee

They were told they would have to return to a camp in Lebanon imminently – only to receive a last-minute temporary German residency permit, she said.

“I would like to go to university,” said Reem Sahwil, in fluent German.

“It’s really very hard to watch how other people can enjoy life and you yourself can’t. I don’t know what my future will bring.”

Angela Merkel replied that “politics can be tough”, adding: “You are an extremely nice person but you also know that there are thousands and thousands of people in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.”

Germany could not manage if all of them wanted to move there, she said.

When Reem Sahwil began to cry, Angela Merkel went over to her and began stroking her on the back and telling her she had done well to highlight the difficulties facing refugees in Germany.

Within hours of the video being broadcast, the term #Merkelstreichelt (Merkel strokes) trended on Twitter.

Some social media users complained that Angela Merkel had “petted” the girl and failed to show enough sensitivity, although others defended the leader’s reaction.

Germany says it expects 400,000 asylum applications by the end of 2015 – more than double the amount it received in 2014.

The right-wing Pegida group has marched against what it calls the Islamization of Germany, and the country’s newest political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), has called for tighter immigration control.

German parliament is debating a motion on whether to allow negotiations on Greece’s €86 billion bailout deal.

Opening the debate, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of “predictable chaos” if deputies did not back the plan.

The deal is expected to be passed despite opposition from the left and some members of Angela Merkel’s conservative party.

Greece’s parliament has already voted in favor of hard-hitting austerity measures required for a third bailout deal.

On July 16, the European Central Bank (ECB) raised the level of emergency funding available. This has paved the way for Greek banks, which shut nearly three weeks ago, to reopen on July 20.

However, credit controls limiting cash withdrawals to €60 a day will only be eased gradually, officials say.

Eurozone ministers have also agreed a €7 billion bridging loan from an EU-wide fund to keep finances afloat.German Parliament votes on Greece bailout deal

Chancellor Angela Merkel told German lawmakers ahead of today’s vote that the deal was hard for all sides, but said it was the “last” attempt to resolve the crisis.

“We would be grossly negligent, indeed acting irresponsibly if we did not at least try this path,” she said.

A number of eurozone countries require parliamentary approval to go ahead with bailout talks, including Austria, which is also voting on July 17. Both the French and Finnish parliaments have already backed the deal.

Meanwhile, there have been fresh calls for Greek debt relief measures from International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde – echoing a call from Greek PM Alexis Tsipras.

Christine Lagarde told France’s Europe 1 the IMF would participate in a “complete” Greek package that includes debt restructuring, as well as an “in-depth reform” of the Greek economy.

Greece has debts of €320 billion and is seeking its third international bailout. Last month it became the first developed country to fail to make a repayment on a loan from the IMF.

The Greek bank closures have been one of the most visible signs of the crisis.

From July 20, a weekly limit on withdrawals may replace a daily cap, Greek Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas suggested.

“If someone doesn’t want to take €60 on Monday and wants to take it on Tuesday, for instance, they can withdraw €120, or €180 on Wednesday,” he told Greek ERT television.

The announcements from the ECB and the Eurogroup came after Greek lawmakers passed tough reforms on taxes, pensions and labor rules as part of the new bailout deal.

A rise in value added tax (VAT) from 13% to 23% will kick in on July 20, affecting food and drink in restaurants, taxi fares, selected supermarket items, public transport and plane and ferry tickets.

PM Alexis Tsipras faced opposition to the deal from lawmakers within his left Syriza party. He is widely expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle on July 17.

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The second day of the G7 summit in Germany is being dominated by the climate change and extremism talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the economic powers group to reach an agreement on limiting global temperature rises.

Angela Merkel also wants G7 members to contribute to a fund for poor countries suffering the worst effects of climate change.

There will also be talks on the threat from radical extremism with the leaders of Nigeria, Tunisia and Iraq.

G7 summit is being held at the picturesque Schloss Elmau hotel in Krun in the Bavarian Alps.

It is being attended by President Barack Obama, UK PM David Cameron, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, French President Francois Hollande, Canadanian PM Stephen Harper and Italian PM Matteo Renzi.G7 Summit 2015 Germany

The first working session on June 8 will focus on climate and energy, with Chancellor Angela Merkel trying to get leaders to agree to keeping temperature rises within 2C of pre-industrial levels.

Angela Merkel is hoping to secure commitments from her G7 guests on tackling global warming to build momentum before a major UN climate summit in Paris in December.

Later, G7 leaders will be joined by Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to discuss the threat posed by groups like Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram.

On June 7, David Cameron said the UK was sending an extra 125 military trainers to Iraq to help in the battle against IS, describing the militants as “the biggest threat” G7 leaders had to address.

ISIS continues to control large swathes of Iraq and Syria despite being the target of a US-led air campaign against them.

In Nigeria, a similar regional battle is being fought against Boko Haram militants who have carried out attacks since 2009 to try to create an Islamic state.

The 41st G7 summit is held in Schloss Elmau, Krün, Bavaria, Germany on June 7–8, 2015.

How much money do the top leaders of some of the world’s leading nations earn annually?

Here’s a list of the most recent official data (converted into US dollars at the current rate) of the yearly earnings of these world leaders.

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Singapore

Salary: US $1,700,000

Barack Obama, President, USA

Salary: US $400,000

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Canada

Salary: US $260,000

Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany

Salary: US $234,400World leaders salaries 2015

Jacob Zuma, President, South Africa

Salary: US $223,500

David Cameron, Prime Minister, UK

Salary: US $214,800

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister, Japan

Salary: US $202,700

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President, Turkey

Salary: US 197,400

Francois Hollande, President, France

Salary: US $194,300

Vladimir Putin, President, Russia

Salary: US $136,000

Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister, Italy

Salary: US $124,600

Dilma Rousseff, President, Brazil

Salary: US $120,000

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India

Salary: US $30,300

Xi Jinping, President, People’s Republic of China

Salary: US $22,000

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met Honda Motor’s humanoid robot ASIMO while touring Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Japan.Angela Merkel and humanoid robot ASIMO

ASIMO also met President Barack Obama when he visited Tokyo in April 2014.

Angela Merkel arrived in Japan on March 9 and is scheduled to meet Emperor Akihito and PM Shinzo Abe during her two-day stay. This is her first visit to Japan since 2008.

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German lawmakers have voted to extend Greece bailout by another four months.

The bailout extension – approved by international creditors last week in exchange for a series of Greek government reforms – needs to be ratified by eurozone members.

Some German lawmakers had expressed doubts about the deal and there is substantial public skepticism but the vote passed easily.

It comes after police and protesters clashed during anti-government demonstrations in Athens on February 26.

They were the first such disturbances since Greece’s leftist Syriza was sworn in as the main government party exactly a month ago, promising to renegotiate the country’s debt and end austerity.

Dozens of activists hurled petrol bombs and stones at police and set cars alight after a march involving hundreds of protesters. Some carried banners calling for Greece to leave the EU and for its debt to be cancelled.

Eurozone finance ministers on February 24 approved a set of reform proposals submitted by Greece.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

As the dominant economic power in the EU, Germany’s approval was regarded as crucial – and on February 27 the overwhelming majority of lawmakers granted it. A total of 542 voted for the proposals, with 32 voting against and 13 abstentions.

The vote was preceded by a ferocious debate, with catcalling and jeering.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble spoke in favor of the deal, telling parliament: “We Germans should do everything possible to keep Europe together as much as we can.

“We’re not talking about new billions for Greece… rather it’s about providing or granting extra time to successfully end this program.”

There has been a chorus of skepticism about the deal inside Germany – with Thursday’s edition of the largest tabloid, Bild, emblazoned with the word “No!”, adding “No more billions for the greedy Greeks!”

Hawkish elements within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU (Christian Social Union), have portrayed the extension deal as leniency for Greece.

Wolfgang Schaeuble himself has expressed doubt about the Greek government’s commitment to reform.

However, German legislators felt they had no choice but to pass the vote, as a eurozone breakup could prove even more expensive than the bailouts and potentially undermine the credibility of the euro.

In Greece, the proposed bailout extension has also triggered dissent within the governing party.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has defended it, but some on the hard left have accused Syriza of going back on pre-election pledges.

Even if the bailout extension goes through Greece still faces the formidable task of trying to service its debt obligations.

Greece will need to flesh out its reform program in detail by April and prove that reforms are bedding in before receiving a final disbursement of 7.2 billion euros.

In the meantime Greece has to repay several billion euros in maturing debts, including about 2 billion euros to the IMF in March, and 6.7 bilion in European Central Bank bonds maturing in July and August.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande have reached an agreement aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine following marathon talks in Minsk, Belarus.

The leaders announced that a ceasefire would begin on February 15.

The deal also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges, but key issues remain to be settled.

The pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have signed the agreement. Thousands of people have died in almost a year of fighting in the region.

The deal is very similar to a ceasefire agreed in September 2014, which unraveled very quickly.

Key unresolved issues include the status of Debaltseve, a government-held town surrounded by rebels, where fighting is still going on.

Further talks will also be held on self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions.

President Francois Hollande said he and Chancellor Angela Merkel would ask their European Union partners to support the deal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Angela Merkel said there was now a “glimmer of hope” but big hurdles remained, while Francois Hollande said “the coming hours will be decisive”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said European leaders in Brussels would be discussing ways to “help and sustain the agreement”, but she ruled out the threat of fresh sanctions on Russia.

“I think today the issue is not going to be discussion of further sanctions… but rather positive ways the EU can contribute to make this first step just one of many others,” she told reporters in Brussels.

Photo RT

Photo RT

The US said the deal was a “significant step” but expressed concern over reports of continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, saying it was “inconsistent with the spirit of the accord”.

Last week, the US refused to rule out supplying “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine if diplomacy failed, but Russia says that would worsen the crisis.

Speaking after the talks ended, Vladimir Putin told Russian television: “It wasn’t the best night for me, but it’s a good morning.”

Petro Poroshenko – who had accused Russia of making “unacceptable” demands – said that “despite tension and pressure” Ukraine had not succumbed to “ultimatums”.

Russia rejects accusations by Ukraine and Western powers that it is supplying weapons and personnel to the rebels – who are seeking independence for the areas they control.

The separatists gave the agreement a cautious welcome.

In Luhansk, rebel leader Igor Plotnitskiy said: “We hope that thanks to our efforts today, Ukraine will change and stop firing at civilians, hospitals and socially important facilities.”

Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Kiev would be to blame if the ceasefire collapsed and warned that there would “be no meetings and no new agreements”.

More than 5,400 people have been killed since the conflict began. There has been a dramatic rise in casualties in recent days, with 263 civilians killed in populated areas between January 31 and February 5.

Minsk agreement includes:

  • Ceasefire to begin at 00:01 local time on February 15
  • Heavy weapons to be withdrawn, beginning on February 16 and completed in two weeks
  • All prisoners to be released; amnesty for those involved in fighting
  • Withdrawal of all foreign troops and weapons from Ukrainian territory. Disarmament of all illegal groups
  • Ukraine to allow resumption of normal life in rebel areas, by lifting restrictions
  • Constitutional reform to enable decentralization for rebel regions by the end of 2015
  • Ukraine to control border with Russia if conditions met by the end of 2015 [youtube wfjiPYru3T0 650]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have announced a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine starting with February 15.

“We have managed to agree on the main issues,” Vladimir Putin said after marathon talks with Petro Poroshenko, as well German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Minsk, Belarus.Minsk talks Ukraine ceasefire 2015

President Francois Hollande said it was a “serious deal” but not everything had been agreed.

Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting in the east of Ukraine.

The meeting in Belarus – which began on February 11 – was focused on securing a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and creating a demilitarized zone in Eastern Ukraine.

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The US is studying the option of supplying lethal defensive arms to Ukraine if diplomacy fails to end the crisis in the east, President Barack Obama has said.

Russia had violated “every commitment” made in the failing Minsk agreement, he added, after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a new peace deal.

Barack Obama has come under pressure from senior US officials to supply arms, despite objections from Angela Merkel.

Russia denies accusations of sending troops and supplying the rebels.

The latest diplomatic efforts come amid renewed fighting between the pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian government troops, with fighting centered around the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve.

The rebels said on February 9 they had cut off a key supply road to the town, which is near the rebel-held city of Donetsk, but the military says the battle is ongoing.Barack Obama and Angela Merkel Ukraine talks 2015

Ukrainian government officials say nine soldiers and at least seven civilians have been killed in fighting over the last 24 hours.

The crisis in Ukraine has already claimed more than 5,300 lives and displaced 1.5 million people from their homes.

Angela Merkel met Barack Obama in Washington on February 9 to update him on Franco-German efforts to revive last year’s Minsk peace plan, which collapsed amid fighting over the winter.

The detailed proposals have not been released but the plan is thought to include a demilitarized zone of 50-70km (31-44 miles) around the current front line.

Four-way talks between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France are due to be held in Belarus’s capital Minsk on February 11 to discuss the proposals.

Speaking alongside Angela Merkel, President Barack Obama said the option of lethal defensive weapons for the Ukrainian government remained on the table.

“If, in fact, diplomacy fails, what I’ve asked my team to do is to look at all options,” he said, adding that offering lethal arms was only one of the options under consideration.

Angela Merkel, who has made it clear she opposes sending lethal arms, acknowledged setbacks in efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Russia over Ukraine, but said that they would continue.

Meanwhile Barack Obama criticized Russian aggression in Ukraine, saying that the borders of Europe could not be “redrawn at the barrel of a gun”.

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