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Sweden to end months without a government

Stockholm has been trapped in deadlock, with no party wanting to govern with the far-right Sweden Democrats. Social Democrat PM Stefan Lofven is set to retain his post by promising to bring his party to the right. Sweden looked set to finally resolve four months of political deadlock on Wednesday and allow Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to take a second term in office. The Left party said it would abstain in a crucial vote on Friday, clearing the way for Lofven and his patchwork coalition. Lofven, leader of the Social Democrats, has been leading a caretaker government since elections on September 9 yielded inconclusive results. Although the Social Democrats won the most votes, their 31.1 percent support left them grappling to form a coalition in a country with eight mainstream parties and proportional representation. These problems were compounded by the fact that most other parties wanted to govern without the support of the Left and the far-right Sweden Democrats, who are rooted in Norwegian white supremacist circles. But the Social Democrats have managed to pull together an unusual union of the left and right wing by gaining the support of the Greens, Liberals, and the Center party. In doing so, however, Lofven has had to promise to take his traditional center-left party to the right. "Sweden needs a government," said Lofven, adding that he was "humbled to have been nominated" for Friday's vote. With the Left party abstaining from the vote, Lofven was pretty much guaranteed success. However, the leftists have warned that they would vote down the new government if the prime minister went forward with reforms on the labor law and rent hikes for newly-built homes

Stockholm has been trapped in deadlock, with no party wanting to govern with the far-right Sweden Democrats. Social Democrat PM Stefan Lofven is set to retain his post by promising to bring his party to the right. Sweden looked set to finally resolve four months of political deadlock on Wednesday and allow Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to take a second ... Read More »

Body of missing German tourist found in Australia

Police in Australia have found the body of a Cologne resident who was reported missing on January 8. Authorities have said the woman was found in the Outback, near Alice Springs. Authorities in Australia's Northern Territory (NT) have found the body of a German tourist reported missing on January 8. Workers at Desert Palm Resort, where 62-year-old Cologne resident Monika Billen had been staying, notified police three days after the woman failed to check out and board her January 5 flight to Darwin. Authorities searched for the woman for two weeks before initially halting their efforts. The search, however, was resumed after police were given information by telephone carriers. That information allowed authorities to narrow the area of their search, for which they used aircraft and drones. Read more: Missing German backpacker survives Australian Outback on diet of bugs In a statement, NT Police Superintendent Pauline Vicary said that the search: "has required extensive work, interpreting data from both international and national phone providers, but the outcome assisted in narrowing down the search parameters and eventually locating Ms Billen. It is deeply upsetting that we have to tell her family this sad news, but we are relieved to be able to provide them with answers." Billen's family had sent a heartrending letter to the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) begging for any assistance locals could provide to locate the woman one day before her body was eventually found Little protection against sweltering heat In the letter, the family wrote, "We have been consumed with worry ever since we heard of Monika's disappearance, especially because we know her as a very responsible and capable person." They feared that she may have been the victim of foul play. Billen's body was found under a tree near the popular hiking area of Emily's Gap outside Alice Springs, in Australia's Northern Territory. The area is known for its deep gorges, rocky ravines and sweltering heat, which often reaches more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Read more: Rescue crews save three Australian men stuck on outback's Uluru rock Billen, an avid traveler and hiker, mentioned the heat in a December 31 e-mail to her family, the last they received: "In the heat I take more or less extensive walks in the surroundings of Alice Springs in Central Australia. Somehow the heat fits well with the landscape … I took a picture from the [Olive Pink] botanical garden lookout hill, which is near my accommodations and offers plenty of shady places to sit, dream and read." Police say that Billen was only carrying a cashmere scarf with her as protection from the heat.

Police in Australia have found the body of a Cologne resident who was reported missing on January 8. Authorities have said the woman was found in the Outback, near Alice Springs. Authorities in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) have found the body of a German tourist reported missing on January 8. Workers at Desert Palm Resort, where 62-year-old Cologne resident Monika ... Read More »

Kenya terror attack highlights security challenges

Kenya terror attack highlights security challenges Kenya's security agencies are under scrutiny following the latest attack on a hotel compound. Analysts say it's a sign that al-Shabab is still very much a force to be reckoned with. The latest terror attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi has once again drawn attention to the security situation in Kenya. In particular, the extent to which Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab has infiltrated the country and evaded security agencies. Tuesday's attack came three years to the day after al-Shabab militants attacked a Kenyan military base in neighboring Somalia, killing over 100 troops. In 2015 extremists stormed Garissa University College in Kenya's North Eastern Province, killing 148 people. The last attack linked to al-Shabab in central Nairobi occurred back in 2013 at Westgate shopping mall, resulting in 71 deaths, including the four gunmen. Each of these events resulted in changes to the way the government carried out counterterrorism activities and led to increased monitoring of the porous Kenya-Somalia border. So what does the latest attack mean for the security situation in Kenya? Kenya's counterterrorism strategy under scrutiny The Kenyan government has been recognized for its relatively successful counterterrorism strategy, especially when it came to curtailing al-Shabab fighters attempting to cross into Kenya from Somalia. So Tuesday's terror attack was largely unexpected. "People thought that the security agencies were on top of things, so it really is a surprise to many people," Emmanual Kisiangani, a Nairobi-based political analyst, told DW. Kenya significantly increased security spending in 2015 and also implemented a decentralization process which allocated more power to the region and local levels with the aim of better tracking extremists within the country. Kisiangani thinks Kenya's security agencies have done relatively well in preventing major attacks up until this point. "It's a very difficult thing to prevent these attacks totally," he says. "They say that the security agencies always need to be right, but terrorists only need to be right once. In between, the security agencies have certainly preempted many similar attacks, including one about a year ago which could have been quite dramatic." The fact that al-Shabab has been referred to as "weakening" by governments, security agencies and the media in recent months may have also spurred on the group to carry out as dramatic an attack as possible. "We have had a few instances where we think al-Shabab is extremely weak and on the brink of being annihilated," says Kisiangani. "Then they want to prove that they are still strong. Every time people think that they are [weak], they try and do something to send out a message that they still have the capacity to cause harm." Stig Jarle Hansen, an expert on African jihadists at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, thinks the fact that the attack took place in the heartland of Kenya, rather than along the border zone, will be a wake-up call for Kenyan security forces. "Al-Shabab did something that was unexpected in many ways," he told DW. "But when it comes to their modus operandi, it's rather typical [for them]…We've seen it before at Westgate and we've seen it in Mogadishu as well." Al-Shabab reaches into Kenya Al-Shabab has been active in Somalia since civil war broke out in 2006. Since then, the jihadist militant group has carried out numerous deadly attacks in the region despite a number of major losses thanks to the combined efforts of the Kenyan, Somalian and US militaries. But recruitment by al-Shabab of Kenyans — the majority of whom are young, disillusioned and from the country's poorest neighborhoods —remains one of the biggest challenges for security forces. Kenya's military is leading a large-scale operation in the Boni National Reserve near the border with Somalia, hoping to push al-Shabab militants back across the border, and preventing them from reaching out to sympathizers inside Kenya.

Kenya’s security agencies are under scrutiny following the latest attack on a hotel compound. Analysts say it’s a sign that al-Shabab is still very much a force to be reckoned with. The latest terror attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi has once again drawn attention to the security situation in Kenya. In particular, the extent to which Somalia-based extremist ... Read More »

At least five dead in attack on luxury hotel in Nairobi

At least five people were killed when a suicide bomber and gunmen stormed an upmarket hotel complex in Nairobi, in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday. Gunshots rang out sporadically as night fell in Nairobi, where police combed the hotel and outlying office buildings for survivors while trying to flush out the attackers. The attack at the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, restaurant and office buildings housing local and international companies, began at 3pm (1200 GMT) with a massive explosion heard five kilometres (three miles) The Al-Qaeda linked Somalian group Al-Shabaab, which carried out a notorious assault on a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors militant activities. “We can now confirm that this criminal activity commenced at about three o'clock in a coordinated fashion and began at I&M Bank with an explosion that targeted three vehicles in the parking lot, and a suicide explosion in the foyer of Dusit hotel,” said Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet. He said “a number of guests suffered serious injuries” but did not give a figure for any fatalities. A photographer saw the bodies of five dead, slumped over tables on a restaurant terrace in the complex, while a police source who asked not to be named said he had seen as many as 14 dead. Elite police forces evacuated terrified workers barricaded in offices after an hour of sustained gunfire as they engaged the attackers. More than six hours after the attack it was unclear how many people were still hiding inside office buildings or the hotel, owned by Thai giant Dusit Thani Group. Simon Crump, who works in the complex, said terrified workers had barricaded themselves inside their offices after “several” explosions. “We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions,” “A lot of people ran when the first few explosions happened, there was a mad rush for the exit,” he said. Boinnet said security forces had contained six of the seven floors of the hotel and were also working to secure “remaining outbuildings in the complex”. “There still could be armed criminals holed up at the building and our team of special forces are doing their best to flush them out, and all our critical national infrastructure remain on guard,” he said. 'A flash and a bang' John Maingi said there had been “a flash of lights and a loud bang” at the Secret Garden restaurant where he works. “When I peeped outside I saw a human leg which has been cut off. We hid in the room and then some police officers rescued us,” he said. Shortly after the attack began flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the parking lot where several cars where ablaze. Police sirens echoed through the city and two helicopters buzzed overhead while ambulances with flashing lights lined up outside the hotel. A private security guard at the scene told he had seen four “gangsters” entering the compound. Meanwhile, the vast upscale Village Market shopping centre in northern Nairobi said on Twitter that it had closed temporarily as a “security precaution.” Kenyan hospitals put out an urgent call for blood donations for the injured. Shabaab The attack at DusitD2 is the first in Nairobi since gunmen stormed the city's Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing at least 67 people. The attack and ensuing siege lasted around four days. That assault was also claimed by Somalia's Shabaab, who have been fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu since 2007. The Westgate attack resulted in many upscale establishments and shopping centres in the capital -- including the Dusit — putting up strict security barriers checking vehicles and pedestrians. The Shabaab targeted Kenya after it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the militant group. On April 2, 2015, another Shabaab attack killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya. In its statement, the Shabaab noted the attack came exactly three years after its fighters overran a Kenyan military base in Somalia. “This attack on Nairobi hotel came as Kenyans and their media are commemorating (the) El Adde attack,” it said. The Shabaab claimed more than 200 soldiers died in that assault, while the government has refused to give its own toll or disclose details of the attack.

At least five people were killed when a suicide bomber and gunmen stormed an upmarket hotel complex in Nairobi, in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday. Gunshots rang out sporadically as night fell in Nairobi, where police combed the hotel and outlying office buildings for survivors while trying to flush out the attackers. The attack at the DusitD2 compound, which includes ... Read More »

UK parliament deals historic defeat to PM May’s Brexit deal

Britain's parliament on Tuesday voted against Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal by a massive margin, triggering a no confidence vote that could bring down her government. The House of Commons lower house voted 432 to 202 against May's plan for taking Britain out of the European Union after nearly five decades, one of the biggest defeats ever suffered by a British premier. The EU warned that the vote, which plunges Britain into uncharted waters, boosts the risk of a “no deal” Brexit. Moments after the outcome, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn submitted a motion of no-confidence in May's government. The vote is set for Wednesday. Speaking moments before the MPs cast their ballots, May said MPs had a “duty to deliver” on the results of a 2016 referendum that started the divorce. “I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people,” May said, warning MPs that the EU would not offer any “alternative deal”. “A vote against this deal is a vote for uncertainty, division, and the very real threat of a no deal,” she argued to loud jeers from the packed chamber. “The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.” Most lawmakers have always opposed Brexit, as have some leading members of May's government, creating an inherent contradiction that has torn apart the island nation. And with just over two months to go until the scheduled March 29 departure, Britain still cannot decide what to do. May must now decide whether she tries to hold another vote, gets kicked out of office, delays Brexit — or if Brexit even happens at all. As their nation's fate was being decided, hundreds of noisy supporters and opponents of Brexit, some banging drums and others driving floats with huge dolls mocking top UK politicians, rallied outside the ancient parliament building in London. “It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!” said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who backs a swift and sharp break with the EU. A much larger rally nearby in support of a second referendum turned Parliament Square into a sea of EU flags. One pro-Brexit activist attempting to join the rally was detained by police to shouts of “scum” from fellow protesters in an indication of rising tensions. Others voiced their support for a second referendum, an option May's government rules out.

Britain’s parliament on Tuesday voted against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a massive margin, triggering a no confidence vote that could bring down her government. The House of Commons lower house voted 432 to 202 against May’s plan for taking Britain out of the European Union after nearly five decades, one of the biggest defeats ever suffered by ... Read More »

Germany protests call for leadership on climate action

From Berlin to Cologne, protesters have gathered to demand more from the government in the fight against climate change. Greenpeace said Germany must lead, and that means phasing out coal by 2030. Thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday in Berlin and Cologne to demand bolder measures to combat climate change. Some 36,000 people joined the rallies. Organizers said the protest aimed to pressure the government into ending Germany's reliance on coal for its energy needs and instead looking to renewable energies, such as solar energy and wind power. "The point is that Germany must phase out coal by 2030," Jennifer Morgan, who leads Greenpeace International, told the Agence France-Presse news agency. "What happens in high-tech Germany, how quickly the climate-damaging combustion of coal is replaced by solar energy and wind power, is very important, also for other countries." Local to global In Berlin, protesters focused on changing government policy, while the demonstrations in Cologne highlighted the plight of Hambach Forest. The ancient forest has been a site of contention between anti-coal protesters and German energy giant RWE, which wants to clear the area to expand an open coal mine. Environmental activists argue that Germany should be winding down coal consumption, not expanding it. Germany was set to release a report on phasing out coal but later postponed the release until 2019.

From Berlin to Cologne, protesters have gathered to demand more from the government in the fight against climate change. Greenpeace said Germany must lead, and that means phasing out coal by 2030. Thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday in Berlin and Cologne to demand bolder measures to combat climate change. Some 36,000 people joined the rallies. Organizers said the protest ... Read More »

George H.W. Bush viewed Germany as friend and partner, says ex-World Bank boss

The former US president supported German unification when others would not. He did so because he believed German democracy had succeeded, Bush's point man for German unification, Robert Zoellick, told DW. eutsche Welle: You worked closely for and with President George H.W. Bush. Can you share a personal anecdote that sums up the person he was? Robert Zoellick: Referring to the difference to the current era, he was very much a man of honor and service while also being a very fierce competitor, both politically and in terms of America's international role. I would sum him up as a consummate alliance manager. Particularly important for Germany [was that] Bush took office when [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev was the phenomenon. Part of Bush's challenge was to solidify the alliance given the ice-breaking at the end of the Cold War. Many people forget that by May of 1989, only a few months after he took office, he come forward with a rather bold proposal to cut and equalize conventional armies in Europe. It was a shift from the discussion about nuclear weapons from the INF treatyand it was important for Germany because it took the focus off the short-range missiles that were left, which is when Germans said: "The shorter the missiles, the deader the Germans." He faced some resistance from [UK Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher, but had strong support from Germany and helped really built the core of the US-German relationship. The next step came in December that year at the Malta meeting. Bush was very eager to see Gorbachev. Some people in the administration were holding back, but I worked for Secretary [of State James] Baker at the time, who knew Bush wanted to engage Gorbachev. He came forward with a series of proposals — some economic, some political — that highlighted his willingness to embrace what Gorbachev was trying to do. And that was critically important in Gorbachev's state of mind because this was right after the opening of the Berlin Wall and the Soviets were having to determine their relationship to Germany. Bush went from that meeting to Brussels, were he briefed all the NATO countries and laid out some of the structure the US would take for the German unification process. The third aspect of that was as part of his alliance management: He really worked arm-in-arm with Chancellor [Helmut] Kohl in recognizing the historic moment for Germany, being supportive of the drive for German unification when frankly most of Europe was hesitant other than [then-President of the European Commission] Jacques Delors. But he did so in a way that also kept an eye on the overall interests of others in Europe. He obviously was focused on having a united Germany in NATO because that was also important to reassure people in Europe that the united Germany would follow the path of West Germany of the past 40 years. On the domestic side just one more example: People often just look at Bush as a foreign policy president, but actually if you look some of his domestic legislation, he did some landmark legislation with the American with Disabilities Act, revising the Clean Air Act and obviously his gutsiest step was, as he was approaching the Gulf War, he took the step of being willing to raise revenues for a budget deal, which really was the precursor of what Clinton then also did, which put us in a much better budget path for the 1990s, because it put caps on spending. That was a political debacle for him that he was willing to take that step and combined with a recession, he paid a huge price in failing to get reelected. I hope that historians will recognize more what he accomplished in four years both internationally and domestically. In Germany, President Bush senior is remembered as the US president who was instrumental in achieving German unification. How did he view Germany and why was he, unlike many other international leaders, supportive and not opposed to German unification? He viewed Germany as a friend and partner. Quite early on he gave an interview where he supported the idea of German unification even at a time that Germans were a little hesitant to speak about the topic. I think he gave some freedom for Kohl and others to take those steps. He believed that German democracy had succeeded, that Germany was a strong ally and that this was one of the good qualities of the American experience — we Americans didn't fear Germany, we saw Germans as our partners. It was a sign of confidence and faith in working with Germany, and it reflected the kind of assurances he could give others that were anxious like Britain or France and others, that the United States remained committed to transatlantic relations and also to those in Eastern Europe. To give Kohl his credit, he partly earned this in that he had taken some very courageous steps in the 1980s with the dual track commitments and the intermediate range missiles. Everyone knew this was a very gutsy thing for Kohl to do. It lead to the INF treaty and the success of eliminating those weapons. So Kohl and Germany had earned the trust. Do you think that his role in making German unification possible could be his most important foreign policy achievement? Our policy, while focused on German unification, was also focused on a Europe whole and free. I would put German unification kind of as the key stone of a peaceful end of the Cold War in a way that created structures for the future. I personally think that historians don't recognize enough that Bush not only ended the Cold War peacefully, but that he laid the foundation stones for a future structure — transatlantic relations, the NAFTA negotiations and he almost completed the Uruguay round [of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT]. So in that sense he is a key transitional figure in the international order. All those things you mentioned — that he was a friend of Germany, a supporter of transatlantic relations and opposed to nationalism, economic or otherwise — that seems like a total contradiction to the current president, doesn't it? I want to draw a key distinction, because it might be helpful to your readers. I know that nationalism in some European and German quarters is seen as a negative term. And Macron obviously emphasized this. Nationalism with American internationalists is not a bad term. Let me relate that to the German unification story. You asked why was Bush comfortable with German unification where others in Europe weren't? We weren't afraid of German nationalism. We thought that a successful Germany could be a pillar of the future. He in a very practical way realized that Germany would eventually become the dominant player in Europe, even though it didn't want to be seen as acting dominantly. [Current US President Donald] Trump is unusual in that he sets nationalism against internationalism, which I think is a terrible mistake. And he has a very different worldview, right? Trump views the 40-year-old order that took us through the Cold War and afterwards as having cost the United States too much, and he thinks that others should bear a greater burden. He doesn't value the systems and institutions that the US helped create. And this story begins way before 1989: this is the story of the Marshall Plan, GATT, the World Trade Organization, and the story of creating NATO. Those structures were overhauled and adapted at the end of the Cold War. Bush actually had ideas about the future roles of NATO and the trade area. At the same time we were dealing with those issues in 1989, we had the events of Tiananmen Square in China. Bush took a great political hit to maintain the relations with China, because he saw trying to have a constructive relationship with China as important for the future world order. Now contrast that with today. Read more: What you need to know about NATO The country President Bush led, but also his Republican Party, have changed a great deal since the time he served. Would you say President George H.W. Bush was the last traditional, old school Republican president? These traits carry forward. I know that his son, George Bush 43, didn't create the same warmth in Europe as his father did, but if you look at his commitment [to] the overall international order, this is not a man who abandoned that structure by any means. Clearly, Bush 41 kind of represented and was the last president of the World War II generation. And one of the ironies of him as a human being is that he is modest in manner and he actually was kind of a heroic figure in young age as an aviator in the Pacific — almost lost his life and yet politically people said "oh, he is a wimp" — which is kind of odd for a guy who won the Distinguished Flying Cross. But politics is a rough business. Robert Zoellick, a former president of the World Bank, was the US Chief Negotiator for the 2+4 negotiations that led to German unification. He also served in various other key positions under President George H.W. Bush, among them Deputy White House Chief of Staff and presidential "Sherpa" for the G7 summits.

The former US president supported German unification when others would not. He did so because he believed German democracy had succeeded, Bush’s point man for German unification, Robert Zoellick, told DW. eutsche Welle: You worked closely for and with President George H.W. Bush. Can you share a personal anecdote that sums up the person he was? Robert Zoellick: Referring to ... Read More »

G20: Merkel calls on Putin to free Ukrainian sailors

On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the German chancellor called for the release of Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia last weekend. Putin called Kyiv's ruling party a "party of war." German Chancellor Angela Merkel had an "in-depth" conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the worsening tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Saturday. Merkel joined French President Emmanuel Macron, who also met Putin separately on the sidelines of the G20 summit of the world's biggest economies in Argentina, in demanding the release of the Ukrainian sailors captured by Russia's navy last weekend. Putin insisted their cases would be dealt with by the courts. Russia captured several Ukrainian navy vessels on Sunday in the Kerch Strait, which links the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The area is located off the Crimean Peninsula, a territory Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. At a press conference later on Saturday, Putin said Ukraine was not interested in a peaceful resolution to the conflict and called the governing party in Kyiv a "party of war." "As long as it's in power, tragedies of this type and the war will continue," Putin added. Moscow insisted the boats had illegally crossed into Russian waters, while Kyiv filed a complaint in the European Court of Human Rights over what it said was Russian aggression. During her talks with Putin, Merkel pushed for "freedom of shipping into the Sea of Azov." The two leaders agreed to initiate talks between Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine to reduce tensions in the region. Kyiv, which also accuses Russia of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, declared martial law following the incident and banned Russian men between 16 and 60 from entering the country. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Saturday that the "Kremlin is further testing the strength of the global order" to see if the international community will allow Russia to assert that the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea are Russian territorial waters. Read more: Ukraine denies entry to 100 Russians as tension with Moscow escalates Hopeful that trade tensions will subside Merkel also said she hoped talks between the United States and China would help resolve trade tensions between the two countries. Merkel met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and they discussed both trade and partnership. US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to meet later Saturday on the sidelines of the summit. The chancellor said all countries are "affected indirectly when Chinese-American economic relations are not as frictionless as a world order requires." Trump, meanwhile, has canceled a planned meeting with Putin because of the latest standoff with Ukraine. Merkel also spoke of the need to reform the world body that regulates international trade disputes, which was raised during the G20 talks. "Everyone is in agreement that the WTO (World Trade Organization) should be reformed. That is an important agreement," she told reporters. Merkel also held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Concerns are rising that the two-day G20 summit — which represents more than 80 percent of the world's economy and global trade — would end on Sunday without a final communique, due to a number of US objections, including statements over trade, migration and climate change.

On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the German chancellor called for the release of Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia last weekend. Putin called Kyiv’s ruling party a “party of war.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel had an “in-depth” conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the worsening tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said ... Read More »

Bahrain heads to polls amid opposition boycott

The country's opposition groups have been barred from taking part in the parliamentary election, with authorities arresting a number of activists. Rights groups expressed concerns over Bahrain's "political suppression." Bahrainis are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that has been dubbed a "farce" by opposition groups and many rights organizations. The polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) and will close at 8 p.m. (1700 UTC) on Saturday. The Shiite al-Wefaq and the secular Waad parties were banned from fielding candidates in the controversial elections, prompting calls from other opposition groups to boycott the polls. Officials say that 293 candidates, including 41 women, are running for parliament. King Hamad urged voters to participate in the election, which coincides with a municipal vote. Crackdown on dissidents In the run-up to the election, Bahraini authorities arrested at least six people for "obstructing the electoral process." Those detained and charged included Ali Rashed al-Asheeri, a former lawmaker with al-Wefaq party, according to the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Al-Wefaq called for a boycott of the polls after the government passed a law in June barring "leaders and members of political associations dissolved for violating the kingdom's constitution or its laws" from standing. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said Friday it was "gravely concerned" over political suppression in the tiny Gulf kingdom. "Over the past two years, the crackdown in Bahrain has seen the political opposition detained, intimidated and silenced," said Devin Kenney, the group's Bahrain researcher. "We call on the authorities to stop this ongoing and escalating repression and to allow free expression of dissenting voices, including those who oppose monarchy," he added. Protracted instability Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority, has been rocked by unrest since authorities backed by reinforcements from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates carried out a bloody crackdown on Arab Spring protests in 2011. Bahrain accuses Iran of fomenting Shiite armed opposition amid a spate of attacks on security forces and infrastructure. On November 4, a Bahrain appeals court sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of al-Wefaq movement, to life in prison for spying for regional rival Qatar. He had been acquitted by Bahrain's High Criminal Court in June alongside two prominent aides, Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali al-Aswad, who were tried in absentia. Bahrain is strategically located in the Persian Gulf, and is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and a British naval base.

The country’s opposition groups have been barred from taking part in the parliamentary election, with authorities arresting a number of activists. Rights groups expressed concerns over Bahrain’s “political suppression.” Bahrainis are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that has been dubbed a “farce” by opposition groups and many rights organizations. The polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (0500 ... Read More »

Brexit: Britain’s Theresa May holds pre-summit talks

British Prime Minister Theresa May is to hold talks with key EU leaders ahead of a summit to endorse her Brexit deal. But resistance at home and abroad continues to dog negotiations. British Prime Minister Theresa May is to hold last-minute talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk on the eve of an EU summit that could still be blocked by Spanish objections to her deal on Britain's withdrawal from the bloc. Spain has threatened to veto the deal unless the wording is changed to give Madrid guarantees that it alone can decide on the future of the disputed territory of Gibraltar in direct talks with London. May hopes nonetheless to leave Brussels on Sunday with the terms of British withdrawal on March 29 and a comprehensive concept for future Britain-EU relations settled with the bloc. Northern Irish opposition The British premier is, however, also facing opposition closer to home, with the Democratic Union Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, whose support is vital to her government, holding a conference on Saturday. The right-wing and "Christian fundamentalist" DUP, which is in favor of Brtish rule in Northern Ireland, believes that the deal's backstop provision to ensure an open border on the island of Ireland will give the province a different economic status compared with the mainland. This, it fears, could increase the chances of Irish unification, which it vigorously rejects. Getting the DUP on board will be highly important to May if the deal is to be passed by the British Parliament, where May's Conservative Party only has a minority. The Conservatives have a "confidence-and-supply" arrangement with the DUP's 10 members of parliament, allowing them an effective majority. No-deal warning The expected presence of Britain's finance minister, Philip Hammond, at Saturday's conference underlines the central role the highly conservative party now plays. Hammond on Saturday reiterated his support for May's draft deal on Saturday, telling broadcaster BBC that it was "a way of Britain leaving the European Union ... with minimum negative impact on our economy." At the same time, he warned that no deal would mean "very serious" consequences in the future for the economy, jobs and prosperity. The conference will also be attended by former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a vehement critic of the deal, and Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is to hold talks with key EU leaders ahead of a summit to endorse her Brexit deal. But resistance at home and abroad continues to dog negotiations. British Prime Minister Theresa May is to hold last-minute talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk on the eve of an EU ... Read More »

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