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Racism in Germany ‘in all parts of society,’ UN review shows

Germany has come under fire from a United Nations panel reviewing efforts to eliminate racism in the country. Recent events, including PEGIDA rallies and the alleged arson attack on a refugee home, have raised concerns. "Racism in Germany is not only found in extreme right-wing circles, but in all parts of society," the German government admitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on Tuesday. "Many politicians and parties fail to consistently disassociate themselves from racist resentments, stereotypes and prejudices," added Selmin Çaliskan, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany. She says this contributes to support for the "stigmatization of minorities," promoted by the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement among others. The weekly right-wing PEGIDA rallies saw a huge surge in popularity between October and February, with numbers reaching as high as 25,000 in the eastern German city of Dresden. 'Active civil society' But Almut Wittling-Vogel, a Justice Ministry official representing the German government pointed out that the protest movement has since been outnumbered by counter-protesters at demonstrations. "We are happy that we can also cite examples of an active civil society," she said before the panel. Wittling-Vogel also promised that Germany would step up the prosecution of racist crimes. The pledge to increase convictions came in light of concerns raised by the UN convention over alleged investigation blunders into the suspected murders of migrants by the National Socialist Underground (NSU). The trial of the group's last known member, Beate Zschäpe, is currently ongoing in Munich. 'Racial profiling' On Wednesday, the second day of the two-day hearing, German human rights groups are expected to criticize the government for failures in the fight against racism. Among other issues put before the panel will be persistent claims of "racial profiling" by German police in routine checks on trains. "Such actions would undermine the confidence of ethnic minorities in the German police," Amnesty International warned. The German government's report denied the claims. Human rights groups also say that refugees often struggle to find housing and legal help. 'Major policy field' In around two weeks the panel of 18 independent experts will publish proposals to improve anti-racism efforts in Germany and further implement the UN convention against racism, which came into effect in 1969. Petra Follmar-Otto, head of the German Institute for Human Rights, said she hoped the hearing would "finally make the fight against racism in Germany a major policy field."

Germany has come under fire from a United Nations panel reviewing efforts to eliminate racism in the country. Recent events, including PEGIDA rallies and the alleged arson attack on a refugee home, have raised concerns. “Racism in Germany is not only found in extreme right-wing circles, but in all parts of society,” the German government admitted to the UN Committee ... Read More »

German interior minister to face committee over espionage claims

The latest intelligence service scandal to seize German attention has turned the spotlight on Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. Fairly or unfairly - that is the question the country would like answered. As the media wheels turn around accusations that Germany's BND intelligence service violated laws by helping the US spy on European politicians and companies, they draw a ring around one person in particular: Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. Because he was chief of the Chancellery between 2005 and 2009, and therefore responsible for the BND, and is billed as a potential successor to Angela Merkel, the accusations have sparked outrage and opposition calls for his resignation and for sanctions against those implicated. Speaking on Monday, Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats and vice chancellor, said the matter was "more than one of those regular, bi-annual secret service scandals," and could "trigger a serious tremor." De Maizière has denied the allegations, which surfaced in Germany's Der Spiegel magazine last week and claim that the BND has assisted its US counterpart, the NSA, in unlawful espionage activities since 2002. He said he "follows the rules" and would be happy to provide "extensive information" about what he knows and remembers. De Maizière and the current head of the Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, are to appear before the intelligence service supervisory committee on Wednesday. At a news conference in Berlin on Monday, de Maizière said he welcomed the opportunity to clear his name. He also stressed that it was in everyone's national security interests not to jeopardize the work of intelligence services and cooperation between international partners. By way of example, he cited last week's arrest of an Islamic couple in Frankfurt suspected of plotting what he said could have been a "devastating attack" at a public cycling event. The president of Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, has condemned criticism of de Maizière and the BND, describing as "intolerable" the suggestions from some media outlets and politicians that the intelligence service had deliberately violated German law. Maintaining perspective But in a country which is still digesting decades of espionage at the hands of the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi), the issue stirs emotions. Perhaps too much so, says Sylke Tempel, editor-in-chief of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) publication Internationale Politik. She sees the latest round of claims as a media storm over an affair in which the contours are not yet known. "I wish we could get more sense into this debate before we start asking people to resign," she told DW. One of the main points currently being held against de Maizière is that last month he went on record saying there were "no findings relating to alleged industrial espionage through the NSA or other US services in other states." But according to Spiegel magazine, at the time of that statement, the German government was already aware of "attempts by the NSA to use an existing cooperation to explore German and European companies." Nonetheless, Tempel says it is a matter of maintaining a sense of perspective, and that the information on the table so far does not amount to industrial espionage in the classic sense. "A much more likely scenario is that this is about weapons exports and contacts with groups under sanction," she said. "There is much hysteria but not much information." The issue of secrecy Making that information accessible enough to provide a fuller picture is, given its very nature, inherently difficult. But there's no doubt that this scandal has the potential to be damaging to the interior minister's political future. It has the scope to label him as shady and unreliable, which he can't afford, especially not if his aspirations to run for the country's top job ride on his strong work ethic. In the more immediate future however, Gero Neugebauer, German political analyst at Berlin's Free University, doesn't believe de Maizière will be pushed out of office by these allegations. "It is hard to say he has damaged the German people, and he will always be able to take the line that every government needs a degree of secrecy." The more pertinent question, the analyst believes, is how strong is the opposition? "Currently too weak to be conceivable as the next government, which means it will be Merkel who ultimately decides on her interior minister's fate." And given that he is one of her close allies, Neugebauer does not believe she would ask de Maizière to resign unless he had done something that made her look really bad. "As long as this scandal doesn't ruin the CDU's chances of winning the next election, he stands to survive."

The latest intelligence service scandal to seize German attention has turned the spotlight on Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. Fairly or unfairly – that is the question the country would like answered. As the media wheels turn around accusations that Germany’s BND intelligence service violated laws by helping the US spy on European politicians and companies, they draw a ring ... Read More »

Aldi supermarket workers find record cocaine stash in banana boxes

Police in Berlin have announced a record drugs haul, after Aldi supermarket workers found almost 400 kilograms of cocaine hidden in banana boxes. It's not the first time such a supply route has been rumbled. Cocaine smugglers appeared to have made a costly slip-up after a record haul of the drug was discovered by Aldi supermarket workers in Berlin and the neighboring state of Brandenburg. Announcing the 386-kilogram (850-pound) find on Monday, police spokesman Stefan Redlich said the it was the largest to be discovered in the German capital in any single operation. The market value of the narcotics was estimated to be some 15 million euros. Only a kilogram or so of the drug was found wrapped in black plastic in some of the boxes, while in others there were 10 kilograms or upwards. Drugs were found at 14 stores across Berlin and Brandenburg. Cartels are known to often use food cargo to smuggle large quantities of drugs from South and Central America to Europe. Logistical banana skin Redlich told the Berlin-Brandenburg radio station RBB it was believed the smugglers had made a "logistical error" along the presumed route from Colombia to Hamburg. "The route across the Atlantic is known by police," said Redlich. "The wrong container was probably used when the merchandise was put on board ship. Or possibly, there wasn't time for the smugglers to unload it when it arrived in Hamburg." Investigators were said to still be searching through other banana deliveries at Aldi branches and Berlin's wholesale market. Berlin's second-largest drug haul in 35 years was made in January 2014 when 140 kilos of cocaine was also found in Aldi supermarkets. A major find was also made in the western German city of Cologne in 2010.

Police in Berlin have announced a record drugs haul, after Aldi supermarket workers found almost 400 kilograms of cocaine hidden in banana boxes. It’s not the first time such a supply route has been rumbled. Cocaine smugglers appeared to have made a costly slip-up after a record haul of the drug was discovered by Aldi supermarket workers in Berlin and ... Read More »

Leaders use Dachau liberation anniversary to warn of rising discrimination

Ceremonies have marked 70 years since the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by US forces. Leaders used the occasion to call on people to stand up in the face of hatred, warning of rising discrimination. Bells tolling in the background were the only noise heard during the somber ceremony at Dachau, with leaders and officials joining more than 130 survivors and US liberators to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp's prisoners being freed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the opportunity to thank those in attendance for recounting the terrible events that happened there. "It is very fortunate that people like you are willing to tell your life stories, about the unending suffering that Germany inflicted on you during the era of National Socialism," she said. Merkel also cautioned against forgetting the meaning and origins of places such as Dachau, saying anti-Semitic "attacks and hate speech are aimed against human dignity, and thus also at the basic order of a free society." Echoing this, the president of the Dachau Camp Community, Max Mannheimer, said people needed to learn from history's darkest events. "From commemoration there must also emerge a consciousness of responsibility," he said. Also speaking was Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He worried he was seeing an increase in discriminatory attitudes in today's society. "When I see today how some people stir up hatred against refugees or talk derogatorily about Jews, I ask myself: how well anchored in people's heads is the great good of human dignity?" he said. Dark history The camp was originally opened by the Nazis as a site for political prisoners in March of 1933. However the site's population grew to include Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people with disabilities. Of the more than 200,000 people imprisoned at Dachau and its subcamps, more than 41,000 died. It was also where many medical experiments took place, with former camp prisoner Clement Quentin describing to news agency AFP in a recent interview how he was infected with tuberculosis by the camp's doctors. "We were no longer normal human beings - we weren't yet animals, but only just," the 94-year-old said. On April 29, 1945 American army trucks arrived in the town of Dachau, northwest of Munich. One of the soldiers who helped free prisoners at the camp, Alan Lukens, said he was shocked at seeing the condition of the survivors when they arrived. He said it was a reminder "that good can overcome evil." 'We won't forget' Since January, similar commemorations have taken place at other former campsites, marking seven decades since the end of the Second World War. Merkel became the first German Chancellor to visit Dachau back in 2013, but was criticized for following the visit with a beer-tent rally for her supporters. Merkel finished her speech to the crowd with the assurance that Dachau's role in World War II wouldn't fade from history. "We'll not forget for the sake of the victims, for our own sake, and for the sake of future generations," she said.

Ceremonies have marked 70 years since the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by US forces. Leaders used the occasion to call on people to stand up in the face of hatred, warning of rising discrimination. Bells tolling in the background were the only noise heard during the somber ceremony at Dachau, with leaders and officials joining more than 130 survivors ... Read More »

Report: BND-NSA collaboration deeper than thought

The German news magazine Der Spiegel first outlined the extent of the BND's partnership with the NSA last week. But details are continuing to emerge, suggesting that more than metadata was shared. Germany's federal intelligence agency, the BND, provided the US National Security Agency (NSA) with complete audio and text records of telephone calls and emails of people it had spied on, the Bild newspaper reported on Saturday. Citing sources on the German parliament's NSA inquiry committee, the records, including German and European targets, were also examined by the BND and occasionally used in their own reports. While communications from conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe were expected to be intercepted, the new revelations show that European companies and government agencies in the Middle East were also targeted by the collaboration. Cultural differences? Meanwhile, France said on Saturday that "mutual confidence" had been re-established with Germany following media reports that the BND assisted the NSA in spying on French businesses and government bodies, including the French president's office and the European Commission. France's Foreign Ministry also added that the information provided in the reports had already been revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. US ambassador to Germany John Emerson on Saturday defended the NSA, saying it was a matter of cultural difference. "Americans only see it as a violation of privacy when someone reads their letters and emails or listens in on their phone calls," Emerson told German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. For Germans, though, the violations also had a historical significance. Emerson added that the ongoing cooperation between the two countries' intelligence services was "no secret."

The German news magazine Der Spiegel first outlined the extent of the BND’s partnership with the NSA last week. But details are continuing to emerge, suggesting that more than metadata was shared. Germany’s federal intelligence agency, the BND, provided the US National Security Agency (NSA) with complete audio and text records of telephone calls and emails of people it had ... Read More »

Germany, Italy close embassies in Yemen

Germany has closed its embassy in Yemen, citing security concerns after the recent takeover of the country by Houthi militia. Italy also made the move, joining the diplomatic exodus, which includes the US, UK and France. A spokeswoman for Germany's Foreign Ministry in Berlin said on Friday that the country's embassy in Yemen had been temporarily closed and staff had already left owing to worries about security in the increasingly unstable Arabian Peninsula nation. All German nationals in Yemen were advised to leave. Italy also announced that it would take those same measures on Friday. Earlier in the week, the United States, United Kingdom and France announced they were shutting their embassies for the time being. Yemen has been the site of mass protests by supporters and opponents of the mainly Shiite Houthi movement, which has ousted the impoverished country's Western-backed president, dissolved parliament and declared they were taking over the government. The Houthis overran the capital Sanaa in September last year. Sunni militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a sworn enemy of the Houthis, is also active in Yemen. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday warned: "Yemen is collapsing before our eyes."

Germany has closed its embassy in Yemen, citing security concerns after the recent takeover of the country by Houthi militia. Italy also made the move, joining the diplomatic exodus, which includes the US, UK and France. A spokeswoman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry in Berlin said on Friday that the country’s embassy in Yemen had been temporarily closed and staff had ... Read More »

Germany, US praise partnership ahead of Wall anniversary

Meeting in Berlin, the top diplomats of the US and Germany have lauded their alliance. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, they also acknowledged the threat to peace posed by the ongoing Ukraine crisis. US Secretary of State John Kerry met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Wednesday, just over a fortnight ahead of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and amid a series of conflicts that threaten security in Europe and around the world. The two foreign policy chiefs had the crisis in eastern Ukraine on their agenda, as well as the ongoing onslaught by jihadists in Iraq and Syria that call themselves the "Islamic State," referring to their aim of erecting an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. "The world is at risk of losing its bearings," Steinmeier told reporters after his talks with Kerry. "There is still enough explosiveness in eastern Ukraine to threaten political stability on our continent," he went on. "It is our task to prevent Europe from ever becoming divided again," Steinmeier said, words that fell on receptive ears from his counterpart. "We call for an end to Russian aggression in Ukraine," Kerry said, expressing hopes that the disputed country could one day function as a "bridge between Russia and the West." 'Burning glass' With the fallout from the Ukraine crisis renewing fears of a diplomatic meltdown between Russia and the West, Kerry and Steinmeier used the occasion to recall the symbolic significance of November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall was opened. "For years, the Wall was a burning glass of the Cold War," Steinmeier said, imploring that the lessons learned during that dramatic time period not be forgotten. "Without the unconditional support of the United States, it wouldn't have been possible to bring an end to the division. Germans will not forget what the Americans did." Kerry, referring to the time he spent living as a child in the American sector of the German capital, stressed how "proud" he was of Berlin and what it "continues to mean to the world." "What happened here 25 years ago is lasting evidence of what people can do when they stand together," he said after laying a wreath with Steinmeier at a Berlin Wall memorial. Kerry was scheduled to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel following the talks with Steinmeier. The meeting comes after a difficult phase in US-German relations, when the extent to which the NSA surveyed German intelligence and politicians - including the tapping of Merkel's personal cell phone - came to light this past summer. Despite Wednesday's reciprocal laudatory messages, relations between the two Western powers remain clouded.

Meeting in Berlin, the top diplomats of the US and Germany have lauded their alliance. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, they also acknowledged the threat to peace posed by the ongoing Ukraine crisis. US Secretary of State John Kerry met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Wednesday, just over a fortnight ahead of ... Read More »

Germany, China urge dialogue for Ukraine crisis solution

BERLIN : German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during a telephone conversation on Sunday that the crisis in Ukraine needed to be solved via diplomacy. “The chancellor explained the situation in Ukraine and efforts to come to a political solution of the conflict,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a written statement. “The Chinese president ... Read More »

Germany fears revolution if Europe scraps welfare model

PARIS: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned on Tuesday that failure to win the battle against youth unemployment could tear Europe apart, and dropping the continent’s welfare model in favour of tougher U.S. standards would spark a revolution. Germany, along with France, Spain and Italy, backed urgent action to rescue a generation of young Europeans who fear they will not ... Read More »

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