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Austria stops train carrying hundreds of refugees amid border check clampdown

Austrian officials have stopped a Munich-bound train close to its Hungarian border. Hungarian authorities allowed the refugees to board in Budapest, despite many not having the required visas to travel in the EU. A police spokesman in Vienna said around 300 to 400 refugees were transferred to a regional train, heading for the Austrian capital Vienna. Many of those on board were among roughly 2,000 refugees who had been stranded in Budapest for days. There were scenes of confusion on the platforms at Budapest train station earlier on Wednesday as hundreds of migrants, many of whom had fled from Syria, rushed to board the Munich-bound train. Hungarian authorities had initially refused to let the train leave due to overcrowding and a lack of legal tickets from many of the passengers. Authorities in Vienna are now checking whether the refugees on board had already applied for asylum in Hungary. Migrants found to have already registered at a refugee processing center in Hungary would be returened to Budapest, the spokesman said. Austrian Railways ÖBB added that people on the train who had not already applied for asylum in Hungary would be able to stay in Austria for up to two weeks while they decide whether to seek asylum. After a fortnight, authorities would then have the power to return the refugees to their last transit country. Increased vehicle checks Amid the refugee crisis, Austrian, Hungarian, Slovakian and German authorites were working together on Monday to stop vehicles on highways close to the countries' border regions. The stringent checks, which hope to catch more people traffickers, come less than a week after 71 people were found dead in a Slovakian poultry van on the highway in eastern Austria. Officials said on Monday that more than 200 migrants and five suspected smugglers had been picked up, less than 24 hours since the measures were implemented. Huge traffic jams stretching some 50 kilometers (30 miles) built up along the border between Austria and Hungary throughout the day as the checks got under way.

Austrian officials have stopped a Munich-bound train close to its Hungarian border. Hungarian authorities allowed the refugees to board in Budapest, despite many not having the required visas to travel in the EU. A police spokesman in Vienna said around 300 to 400 refugees were transferred to a regional train, heading for the Austrian capital Vienna. Many of those on ... Read More »

World Athletics Championships: Germans end on a high

The last day of the World Athletics Championships in Beijing was a good one for the US, which won the 4x400m relay, and for Germany. Katharina Molitor clinched her country's second gold medal - just in the nick of time. Katharina Molitor won javelin gold with the final throw of the competition to deny hosts China their second title of the world championships. The 31-year-old, who had never previously won a medal at a major championships, recorded a throw of 67.69 meters with her sixth and final effort. That relegated China's Lyu Huihui, who had posted an Asian record 66.13m, to the silver medal position, disappointing a noisy crowd at the Bird's Nest Stadium. "I've always dreamed of wearing a medal, no matter what sort," Molitor told reporters. "Today is a perfect day." Molitor's gold is Germany's second of the championships, after Christina Schwanitz won the shot put gold eight days ago. The German team leaves China with a total of eight medals, including three silvers and three bronzes. Relay gold for US and Jamaica Veteran Lashawn Merritt displayed all his experience in anchoring the United States to a sixth consecutive victory in the men's world 4x400 metres relay. This came just after Jamaica had stunned the Olympic champion United States women's team to capture in that discipline. Canada's Derek Drouin won the men's high jump with a 2.34-meter effort in a sudden-death finale. Drouin went into a jump-off with defending champion Bogdan Bondarenko of Ukraine and China's Zhang Guowei after all three had no failed attempts up to 2.33 meters and none were able to clear 2.36. The bar was lowered to 2.34. 25-year-old Drouin went first and cleared it - Bondarenko and Zhang both came up short and shared the silver medal.

The last day of the World Athletics Championships in Beijing was a good one for the US, which won the 4x400m relay, and for Germany. Katharina Molitor clinched her country’s second gold medal – just in the nick of time. Katharina Molitor won javelin gold with the final throw of the competition to deny hosts China their second title of ... Read More »

All-clear at SPD headquarters after bomb threat

The all-clear has been given after a bomb threat at the Social Democratic Party (SPD) headquarters in Berlin. The party has received many threats following a visit by the party leader to an anti-refugee flashpoint town. A bomb threat that forced the evacuation of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) headquarters in Berlin on Tuesday proved to be a false alarm. The party's general secretary, Yasmin Fahimi, was quoted by the DPA news agency as saying the bomb threat was made by telephone. It comes a day after Germany's Deputy Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, visited the town of Heidenau, which saw protests between pro- and anti-refugee groups turn violent over the weekend. Gabriel is also the chairman of the SPD: "Since Sigmar Gabriel's visit to Heidenau the Willy Brandt House has received a flood of racist threats," Fahimi told dpa, referring to the building that houses the SPD offices. "We won't budge a single millimeter from our position," Fahimi said of the party's firm stance against right-wing extremists who perpetuate hatred against asylum-seekers.

The all-clear has been given after a bomb threat at the Social Democratic Party (SPD) headquarters in Berlin. The party has received many threats following a visit by the party leader to an anti-refugee flashpoint town. A bomb threat that forced the evacuation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) headquarters in Berlin on Tuesday proved to be a false alarm. ... Read More »

German ministers call for joint EU policy to cope with refugee crisis

Two leading Social Democrat members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet have called for an EU-wide asylum policy as a way of coping with an unprecedented influx of refugees. Merkel made a similar call one week ago. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured, above left) and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (above right) used an article published in this Sunday's edition of the newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" to pitch the idea. In the article, in which their names appeared as the co-authors, the two ministers asserted that due to the crises "in our neighborhood," the growing number of refugee and migrant arrivals does not appear set to end anytime in the foreseeable future. "We Europeans owe it to ourselves and the world to do justice to the great challenge presented by these people seeking help," they wrote, before adding that the European Union's response as a whole had not been satisfactory. Plan for action They then went on to call for a joint EU asylum, refugee and migration policy, outlining a 10-point plan to implement it. Among the highlights of the 10-point plan is a call for a "fair distribution of refugees in Europe." While the two ministers pointed to what they wrote was an unprecedented readiness by many of their fellow citizens to accept refugees and help them become integrated into German society, they also warned that this could not last if the unprecedented influx was not fairly distributed. They also called for urgent assistance for EU countries that have been hardest hit by the wave of migration, such as Italy and Greece, which are where many of the refugees have been first entering the bloc. Recognizing the strain that municipalities, in Germany have also been under, as they struggle to cope with what is projected to by around 800,000 arrivals by the end of 2015, they also called for "long-term and systematic" financial support for their efforts. 'Safe countries of origin' Touching on an idea that has mainly been championed by members of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats in recent weeks, Steinmeier and Gabriel called for an EU list of "safe countries of origin." Germany has already designated a number of countries as such, and may add to its list, which includes countries that aspire to join the 28-member bloc. The two ministers noted a contradiction in the idea that countries in the Western Balkans could be deemed eligible to qualify for EU Association Agreements, while at the same time not being regarded as safe countries of origin for people seeking asylum in the bloc. Almost half of the people who have arrived in Germany so far this year seeking asylum status have come from the Western Balkans and stood almost no change of being granted asylum. The two ministers highlighted the need to send those who did not qualify for asylum back swiftly, in order to free up resources for refugees in need of protection. Finally, Steinmeier and Gabriel note that the only way to combat the problem in the long term was to look for ways of improving the situation in the countries that people are feeling forced to flee. "The stabilization of countries that are falling apart, the containment of violence and civil conflict, must go hand in hand with concentrated efforts towards economic development and the creation of real economic and social prospects in particular for young people in their countries of origin," the two cabinet ministers concluded. Their proposals come a week after Chancellor Merkel used a feature interview with public broadcaster ZDF to call for a common EU policy on migration. Italian warning Also on Sunday, Italy's foreign minister warned that EU member nations needed to find a way of better coordinating efforts to deal with the crisis, saying this could threaten the existence of the bloc's border-free Schengen zone. "What is at risk is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Union: the free circulation of people," Paolo Gentiloni told Sunday's edition of "Il Messagero." "Can we imagine a Union without Schengen? A return to the old borders? He asked. "Migrants are not arriving in Greece, Italy or Hungary. They're arriving in Europe. That is why the reception rules have to be 'Europeanized'."

Two leading Social Democrat members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet have called for an EU-wide asylum policy as a way of coping with an unprecedented influx of refugees. Merkel made a similar call one week ago. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured, above left) and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (above right) used an article published in this Sunday’s edition of the ... Read More »

Fresh clashes in Heidenau as de Maiziere condemns anti-refugee violence

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has condemned violent protests against a refugee shelter in the eastern town of Heidenau. At the same time, he highlighted a spirit of giving demonstrated by other Germans. In comments published in the German "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper, the interior minister decried not just the violent protests against refugees over the past couple of nights in Heidenau, located just outside of Dresden, but all other attacks on asylum seekers' shelters in recent months. "This is unsavory and unworthy of our country," de Maiziere said. "Everyone who thinks like that should try just for a moment to put themselves into the situation of the refugees. We will bring the full force of the law against anyone who takes such action," he added. However, speaking to public broadcaster ZDF earlier, de Maiziere also noted that many Germans had come forward to provide assistance to the refugees, many of whom have fled armed conflicts in places like Syria or northern and western Iraq. "We have (observed) a huge wave of readiness to help others," he noted, in contrast to a simultaneous "increase in hate, insults and violence against asylum seekers." Renewed clashes in Heidenau There had been more unrest on Saturday night in Heidenau, a town that was likely hardly known beyond the eastern state of Saxony before anti-refugee protests began there one night earlier. News agencies reported that between 150 and 200 protesters demonstrated outside the shelter. The first refugees had arrived early on Saturday, after police used tear gas to break up a street blockade aimed at preventing the buses carrying the asylum seekers from getting to their temporary destination. Although the number of demonstrators was far fewer than the estimated 600 to 1,000 who had taken part in the protest 24 hours earlier, police again were pelted with rocks, bottles and firecrackers. Police, who were in place to guard the shelter from such attacks, responded by using batons against the violent demonstrators, some of whom appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, according to the Reuters news agency. The DPA news agency cited a police spokesman in Dresden who said that two officers were injured in the latest clashes.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has condemned violent protests against a refugee shelter in the eastern town of Heidenau. At the same time, he highlighted a spirit of giving demonstrated by other Germans. In comments published in the German “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper, the interior minister decried not just the violent protests against refugees over the past couple of ... Read More »

German police disperse far-right protesters blocking access to refugee center in Saxony

German police have used pepper spray to break up a protest by dozens of far-right demonstrators near a building being used as a refugee center southeast of Dresden. The National Democratic Party organized the protest. Demonstrators blocked the road in Heidenau, southeast of Dresden, which leads to the building (photo) intended for the refugees who were arriving later on Friday. The protestors threw stones, bottles and firecrackers. Police quickly cleared the demonstrators using pepper spray. The building, a former hardware store, is to be the temporary home for several hundred asylum seekers. A bus with the first of about 250 refugees arrived at the building shortly after midnight on Friday. According to police, a security service is being provided to ensure safety in and around the building. Earlier in the day, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert said: "Germany's asylum law, which is a basic right to asylum against political persecution, is certainly one of the best achievements of our constitution." Arson attacks Earlier on Friday police in Berlin said they had arrested two men and a woman in connection with a failed arson attack on a home for asylum seekers. A watchman at the temporary housing unit said a group of people threw burning wood into the compound just before midnight on Thursday. A resident was able to put the fire out. Police in Bavaria said they were investigating an arson attack on a refugee home in Neustadt an der Waldnaab. There were no injuries. The government has spoken out strongly against the attacks. Chancellor Angela Merkel said there could be "no justification" for them. Some 800,000 refugees are expected to apply for asylum in Germany this year - the highest number in the European Union.

German police have used pepper spray to break up a protest by dozens of far-right demonstrators near a building being used as a refugee center southeast of Dresden. The National Democratic Party organized the protest. Demonstrators blocked the road in Heidenau, southeast of Dresden, which leads to the building (photo) intended for the refugees who were arriving later on Friday. ... Read More »

Merkel calls for EU-wide approach to asylum policy

Angela Merkel has used an interview to call for greater efforts to cope with a wave of migrants into Germany and other EU countries. She also expressed confidence about IMF participation in Greece's third bailout. Speaking to public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday, Chancellor Merkel said that although the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have arrived in Germany since the start of the year presented the authorities with a "huge challenge," the country was not overwhelmed. At the same time, though, she warned that this challenge could not be met "if we operate in standard mode." Merkel told ZDF that she had already spoken to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about the need for the European Union to develop a common policy on asylum. She said she also intended to raise the issue with French President Francois Hollande in the near future. 'Next grand European project' "The asylum issue could be the next grand European project, in which we will see if we are really able to take concerted action," the chancellor said. In the short term though, she said Germany's priority had to be housing the migrants who continue to enter the country in unprecedented numbers. This, she said, included getting refugees currently being housed in tents into containers or better before winter sets in. The chancellor also pitched the idea of extending the list of "safe countries of origin," to help discourage asylum seekers from Balkan countries, who may be fleeing poverty, but where no armed conflicts currently exist. Here too, the chancellor said, the goal should be developing an EU-wide policy. The German Interior Ministry has estimated that a total of 450,000 people will apply for asylum by the end of 2015 - although it is expected to revise this number upward in the next few days. Around half of those who have arrived so far are from countries in the Balkans and have almost no chance of being granted asylum in Germany. The chancellor also condemned a recent spate of attacks on shelters being used to house asylum seekers in Germany, saying "this is unworthy of our country. There is no justification for this." Relief, but no 'haircut' for Greece Speaking just days before the lower house of parliament is to vote on a third bailout for Greece, the chancellor said there was no question of debt forgiveness - a "haircut" - for Athens. However, she did say she saw some "wiggle room" on the interest rates it is charged and the maturity dates of its loans. In an apparent effort to reassure skeptical German lawmakers ahead of the vote, saying she was sure that the International Monetary Fund would participate in Greece's third bailout, despite the fact that it has not yet committed to this. The IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde, has said the Fund will take its decision in the autumn, depending upon whether Athens meets conditions related to pension reform and debt relief. "Ms. Lagarde, the head of the IMF, made very clear that if these conditions are met, she will recommend to the IMF board that the IMF takes part in the program from October," Merkel said. "I have no doubts that what Ms. Lagarde said will become reality."

Angela Merkel has used an interview to call for greater efforts to cope with a wave of migrants into Germany and other EU countries. She also expressed confidence about IMF participation in Greece’s third bailout. Speaking to public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday, Chancellor Merkel said that although the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have arrived in Germany since the ... Read More »

De Maiziere says Germany can cope with migrant wave ‘challenge’

Germany's interior minister has described attacks on asylum-seeker shelters as "unacceptable" and "unworthy" of Germany. He also expressed confidence that Germany can cope with an unprecedented wave of migrants. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Thursday toured a shelter camp for asylum seekers at Eisenhüttenstadt, accompanied by Brandenburg state Premier Dietmar Woidke. Speaking to reporters during his visit, de Maiziere condemned a recent spate of anti-foreigner protests in Germany, as well as arson attacks on shelters housing asylum seekers. The interior minister described such attacks as "incomprehensible, unacceptable and unworthy of our country." He also pledged that the authorities would bring the "full severity of the law" to bear against the perpetrators. At the same time, though, de Maiziere admitted that the government estimate of the number of migrants expected to enter Germany in 2015 would have to be corrected upwards from the current 400,000 asylum applications. Still, he expressed confidence that Germany would be able to cope with the unprecedented wave of refugees. "It is a major challenge, which we will meet. It is not insurmountable for a large and rich country like ours," he said. "The key is that we differentiate between those who need protection and those who do not," de Maiziere added. 'Embarassment for Europe' He then noted that almost half of the approximately 200,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany this year have come from the Balkans, where there are currently no major military conflicts. This he said, was "unacceptable and an embarrassment for Europe". "Here in Eisenhuettenstadt, the largest group is from Syria, but the second and third countries of origin are Serbia and Albania," he noted. Currently, fewer than one percent of Balkan applicants are granted asylum in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, of which de Maiziere is a member, have recently said they want to extend a list of so-called "safe countries of origin" to included Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Late last year, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia were added. Merkel's government recently began airing public service announcements on television stations in the Balkans, warning that people leaving those countries for economic reasons stood almost no chance of being granted political asylum in Germany. The refugee camp at Eisenhüttenstadt currently houses around 2,200 asylum seekers, 450 of whom are sleeping in tents erected after space ran out in the buildings.

Germany’s interior minister has described attacks on asylum-seeker shelters as “unacceptable” and “unworthy” of Germany. He also expressed confidence that Germany can cope with an unprecedented wave of migrants. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Thursday toured a shelter camp for asylum seekers at Eisenhüttenstadt, accompanied by Brandenburg state Premier Dietmar Woidke. Speaking to reporters during his visit, de Maiziere ... Read More »

Germany’s Merkel backs justice minister over Netzpolitik treason probe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joined two of her ministers in casting doubt on a treason probe into two internet journalists. She said authorities needed to be sensitive where press freedom was at stake. Merkel's deputy spokesperson, Christiane Wirtz, said on Monday that the chancellor gave her "full support" to Justice Minister Heiko Maas (seen with Merkel in above photo), who on Friday voiced doubts as to whether two journalists at the center of a federal investigation had committed treason by publishing sensitive documents from the domestic intelligence agency. Wirtz declined to comment on whether Merkel still had confidence in Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range, who instigated the investigation against the journalists from the Internet blog Netzpolitik.org, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister. The journalists face possible charges of treason for citing internal papers from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in their reports on plans to extend monitoring of the internet. Sensitive issue "It is now a matter of reaching clarity in the matter," Wirtz said, adding that authorities had to be "particularly sensitive" in cases where freedom of the press was concerned. She also said that Merkel "expressly supported" the suspension of investigations while an external assessment commissioned by Range into the validity of the charges is being carried out. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said Minister Thomas de Maiziere also questioned the treason claims leveled at the journalists. The Interior Ministry shared the doubts of the justice minister "whether the journalists had intended to disadvantage the Federal Republic of Germany or to benefit a foreign power with their publication," the spokesman said. Calls to resign Range has commissioned an external assessment of whether the published material was classified in nature and whether its publication does constitute treason, and has suspended the investigation until it is complete. The Justice Ministry is also carrying out its own assessment of the matter. The daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" said on Monday that officials would conclude in the report that treason charges against the journalists would be unfounded. The affair has provoked a heated debate in Germany on press freedom. It has also caused rifts in the ruling coalition, with several politicians calling for Range's resignation over the affair.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joined two of her ministers in casting doubt on a treason probe into two internet journalists. She said authorities needed to be sensitive where press freedom was at stake. Merkel’s deputy spokesperson, Christiane Wirtz, said on Monday that the chancellor gave her “full support” to Justice Minister Heiko Maas (seen with Merkel in above photo), ... Read More »

Thousands march in Berlin over journalist “treason” claims

Supporters of the digital rights blog "Netzpolitik.org" have turned out in Germany's capital to protest against allegations of treason. The claims have been met with huge criticism from the public and German media. More than 2,000 protesters marched in Berlin on Saturday in support of two journalists who prosecutors allege were involved in revealing authorities' plans to expand online communication surveillance. Demonstrators marched from Friedrichstrasse to the Justice Ministry under the slogan: "For fundamental rights and freedom of the press." According to a police spokesman, the demonstration proceeded smoothly as protesters followed the planned route carrying placards with slogans such as, "RIP democracy." "Treason? Whoever reacts with such panic, surely has too much to hide!" read another. Digital rights blog "Netzpolitik.org" called on supporters to demonstrate after an investigation was launched last week into two of the site's journalists, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister, over claims of treason. Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, filed a complaint against the journalists after they published two articles on "Netzpolitik" earlier this year, quoting a highly confidential parliamentary committee report on a new unit to monitor the internet, especially social media. The award-winning website said the investigation was not only to an attack on the critical reporting of the blog itself, but also "an attack on freedom of the press." The investigation was also hugely criticized by peers in the journalism industry. German journalists union DJV condemned the judicial process as "an inadmissible attempt to muzzle two critical colleagues." Backlash on many fronts Following the public and media backlash, German Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range said on Friday that he had decided to halt investigations, adding that his office would not initiate criminal prosecution, taking into account Germany's legacy of press freedom. Instead, initial investigations would try to find out whether the material published in Netzpolitik's website was classified as secret in the first place. "Until the expert opinion comes in, the investigations will be stopped," Range told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" newspaper. As protests got under way on Saturday, however, criticism of Range continued to mount, with Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and left-wing party Die Linke both calling for the federal prosecutor to step down. Christian Flisek, the representative for the SPD in the German parliament's NSA inquiry, called the probe "just embarrassing." "It's time to pack his bags," he wrote on Twitter.

Supporters of the digital rights blog “Netzpolitik.org” have turned out in Germany’s capital to protest against allegations of treason. The claims have been met with huge criticism from the public and German media. More than 2,000 protesters marched in Berlin on Saturday in support of two journalists who prosecutors allege were involved in revealing authorities’ plans to expand online communication ... Read More »

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