Merkel Plans To Take 1,500 Refugees From Greek Islands

In this file photo taken on August 31, 2015 German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a press conference in Berlin stating “We can do this!” on the controversial decision to open Germany’s doors to tens of thousands of migrants. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

 

Germany plans to take in 1,500 migrants currently taking shelter on Greek islands, government sources told AFP, in addition to around 150 unaccompanied minors from the burnt-out Moria camp.

Under a plan agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Berlin will take in migrants who have already secured refugee status, giving priority to families with children, the sources said.

Merkel’s right-left coalition government is in talks over the plan, with her junior partner Social Democrats expecting a deal by Wednesday.

After a fire laid waste to Greece’s biggest refugee camp Moria last week, pressure has grown on Merkel’s government to offer refuge to the 11,500 left homeless by the disaster.

While Berlin has voiced readiness to open its doors to more than the 150 minors, German media reported however that Athens opposed Germany taking in more asylum seekers from Moria.

Doing so may incite more migrants to set fire to their shelter in Greece in the hopes they would then be offered refuge by Europe’s biggest economy, according to Bild daily.

AFP

Russian Police Seek To Interview Navalny In Germany

(L-R) Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Vasily MAXIMOV /POOL / AFP

 

Russian police said Friday they were seeking to question opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Berlin after Moscow rubbished Germany’s declaration that he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

The 44-year-old Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner fell ill after boarding a plane in Siberia and was hospitalised there before being flown to Berlin.

Germany said there was “unequivocal evidence” that he was poisoned with the nerve agent but Russia says its doctors found no trace of poison.

The Siberian transport police, who have been retracing Navalny’s movements, said in a statement Russia would be preparing a request for its officers and an “expert” to shadow German investigators.

Navalny is now out of a medically induced coma and reacting to speech, according to the Berlin Charite hospital.

Russia said it wanted its officers to be present as “German colleagues carry out investigative activities with Navalny, medics and experts” and ask “clarifying and additional questions.”

The Kremlin has denounced attempts to blame the Russian state for the poisoning as “absurd” and said it wants to know what happened.

Western politicians have said the incident appears likely to have been state-ordered and urged Moscow to prove its lack of involvement.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday there was a “substantial chance” the order to poison the dissident “came from senior Russian officials”, a claim the Kremlin slammed as “unacceptable”.

On Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun voiced outrage Russia had not acted quickly over the use of a chemical weapon against a Russian citizen.

In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks with journalists during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow. Maxim ZMEYEV / AFP
In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks with journalists during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow. Maxim ZMEYEV / AFP

 

“It is unbelievable to us that this would happen on the territory of any country and the government would not react with urgency to investigate and hold accountable those who committed the crime,” he told reporters.

Navalny’s associates believe the use of Novichok shows only the Russian state could be responsible.

The case has prompted international calls for Russia to carry out a transparent investigation or risk sanctions, but the country has not opened a criminal investigation.

“We don’t like it when other countries dictate to us what legal procedures we should start and when,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

He insisted Russia “de facto” is probing the incident, but cannot open a criminal case “on the basis of tests by the German side, especially when carried out in German military labs.”

Siberian transport police have been conducting a “check” into what happened and on Friday published some findings on Navalny’s activities in the city of Tomsk, the last place he visited before falling ill.

Wine and cocktail

They identified the hotel where Navalny stayed and a restaurant where he drank “wine and an alcoholic cocktail”.

They confirmed that he visited the “Vienna Coffeehouse” at Tomsk airport, where supporters suspect he might have been poisoned with a cup of tea.

The police also said they had questioned all those accompanying Navalny except for one woman who “lives permanently in Britain”. Police referred to Maria Pevchikh, an employee of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, but incorrectly gave her name as Marina.

Transport police would not normally handle major crimes and one of those they questioned, Navalny’s ally Georgy Alburov, tweeted that police asked him only: “Did you see anything unusual?”

Police said they were working to trace passengers on the flight from Tomsk to Moscow where Navalny fell ill on August 20.

Navalny had been visiting Siberia to help activists prepare for a tactical voting campaign during nationwide regional elections that began Friday and end Sunday.

 

‘Hiding’ data

Russia has repeatedly complained that Germany has not answered a request by its prosecutors to see the medical data that led to the declaration that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov questioned why Germany “hides (the data) so carefully”, accusing it of failing to provide detailed information to the OPCW global chemical weapons watchdog.

The Berlin prosecutor’s office said it had received instructions from the justice department to respond to Moscow’s request for legal assistance and provide information on Navalny’s health — “provided he consents.”

 

 

AFP

Merkel Not Ruling Out Nord Stream Fallout Over Navalny

In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow.  Maxim ZMEYEV / AFP

 

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not rule out consequences for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project if Russia fails to thoroughly investigate opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, her spokesman said Monday.

Asked whether Merkel would protect the multi-billion-euro pipeline from Russia to Europe if Germany were to seek sanctions over the Navalny case, spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “The chancellor believes it would be wrong to rule anything out from the start.”

Nord Stream 2, a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline near completion beneath the Baltic Sea, is set to double Russian natural-gas shipments to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

It has long been in the crosshairs of the United States, which has criticised European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.

US President Donald Trump has signed legislation that targets contractors working on the project, meaning that German companies face sanctions for even small investments.

“Sure,” said Trump when asked at a White House news conference Monday whether he thought Germany should cancel the project.

“I’ve been supportive of that. I was the first one that brought it up.”

But he did not know if Germany was in a position to do so right now, he added, “because Germany is in a very weakened position energy-wise”.

 

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and US President Donald Trump as they attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11, 2018 as part of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

Even within the European Union, there are voices against the pipeline.

Poland and other former Eastern Bloc states are wary of the EU becoming too reliant on Moscow, while non-EU member Ukraine fears that the new pipeline would cut it out of the gas supply business and allow Moscow to ratchet up pressure.

Despite its political differences with Russia, Germany thinks Nord Stream 2 will ensure a more stable and cleaner source of energy as it pivots away from coal and nuclear power.

As well as Russian giant Gazprom, which has a majority stake, the international consortium involved in the Nord Stream 2 project includes huge European players like Germany’s Wintershall and Uniper groups, the Dutch-British Shell, France’s Engie and Austria’s OMV.

AFP

Uncovering €14.7 Million Fraud Will Improve Nigeria-Germany Relations – Police

 

The Nigerian police on Monday said its work in arresting two Nigerians allegedly involved in attempting to defraud a German company will help to improve its relationship with Europe’s richest country.

The police on Sunday announced the arrest of Babatunde Adesanya and Akinpelu Hassan Abass who are said to be members of a sophisticated transnational criminal network.

The men were allegedly part of a COVID-19 procurement operation that tried to defraud the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia of about €14.7 million.

READ ALSO: Two Arrested For Allegedly Defrauding German Company Of €14.7m

“This will actually help in strengthening our relationship with Germany,” police spokesman, Frank Mba said during his appearance on a Channels Television’s COVID-19 special programme. “Rather than having a negative impact, it will have a very positive impact.

“The German people, the German government and the German business community must have been encouraged by the timeliness of our action, the fact that detectives from Nigeria and Interpol’s National Central Bureau (NCB) based here in Abuja, have got the capacity to actually wade into this kind of case and uncover the crime and try to bring the criminals to book.

“It shows that even if Germans are making investments in Nigeria, they can be assured that their investments are protected and we’ve got the capacity to tackle any unforeseen circumstances that may arise.”

Mba noted that other nationals also took part in the operation.

“There are criminals all over the world,” he said. “Remember that even in this case, there are also accomplices who are not Nigerians, who are Dutch citizens, working with their Nigerian counterparts.”

How The Fraudsters Were Caught

Mba on Monday tried to explain how the criminals almost succeeded in completing the fraud, after already receiving a 1.5 million euros advanced payment and another 880,000 euro payments for the bogus COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“It has been a long-stretched investigation,” Mba said. “If you look at the complexity of the case, you will understand very clearly that the investigators, particularly the detectives from the Cyber-crime unit of the Nigerian Police Force that is currently being warehoused within the Interpol NCB in Abuja had had to work day and night and spanning over several weeks, before they could actually crack down on those suspects.

“This should not be coming as a surprise to Nigerians. At the peak of the lock-down, we did issue a press release where we actually warned about the likelihood of crimes of this nature occurring, not just within Nigeria but also in other parts of the world. We made it very clear that scammers within Nigeria and other parts of the world are beginning to find ways, creative ways for that matter, to take advantage of the fears, the needs generated by the pandemic.

“That is also not surprising, because everywhere in the world, criminals always take advantage of situations, they will take advantage of wars, pandemics, natural disasters, even big time celebrations like the Olympics and World Cup and find very creative ways to actually fleece innocent citizens of their hard-earned income; and that’s exactly what happened here.

“These Nigerian fraudsters, working with their cohorts in Netherlands, presented themselves to a German representative of one of the government agencies as representatives of a company that is based in Holland. That company, ILBN Holdings BV, is prominent and has a very good track-record of producing high-quality PPEs.

“And without the regional company knowing what’s going on, they creatively, cleverly and criminally cloned their website and initiated transactions with a German which eventually culminated in the sealing of this illicit deal valued at about 14.7 million euros.”

Russia Accuses Germany Of Stalling Navalny Probe

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 14, 2018 A police cordon surrounds the area near a bench covered in a protective tent at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 14, 2018, where a man and woman were found critically ill on March 4, after being apparently poisoned with what was later identified as a nerve agent sparking a major incident.  (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

 

Russia on Sunday accused Germany of stalling efforts to probe opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s case after Berlin demanded Moscow provide an explanation over his poisoning or face sanctions.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused German authorities of failing to respond to a request by Russian prosecutors sent on August 27.

She spoke after German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Russia must soon provide an explanation over Navalny’s poisoning with Novichok, a banned nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union.

“Dear Mr Maas, if the German government is sincere in its statements then it should be interested in preparing a response to a request of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office as soon as possible,” Zakharova said.

“So far we are not certain that Germany is not playing a double game,” she added. “Where is the ‘urgency’ you are insisting upon?

“By not sending its answer, Berlin is stalling the process of investigation for which it’s calling. On purpose?”

Germany, the current head of the European Union, will discuss possible sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top foe if the Kremlin does not provide an explanation soon, Maas said Sunday.

READ ALSO: German Foreign Minister Threatens Sanctions Over Navalny Poisoning

Navalny fell ill on a flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.

Germany said last week there was “unequivocal evidence” that the Russian opposition leader had been poisoned using Novichok.

“If in the coming days Russia does not help clarify what happened, we will be compelled to discuss a response with our allies,” Maas told German daily Bild.

Any sanctions decided should be “targeted”, he added.

Western leaders and many Russians have expressed horror at what Navalny’s allies say is the first known use of chemical weapons against a high-profile opposition leader on Russian soil.

Earlier this week Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had “nothing to hide” and the Kremlin said Russian doctors had found no proof Navalny was poisoned.

AFP

Germany Attacks ‘Unscrupulous’ Trump Over Rigged Vote Claims

File photo: President Donald Trump announces that the Food and Drug Administration is issuing an emergency authorization for blood plasma as a coronavirus treatment during a press conference in James S. Pete Marovich/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday that an “unscrupulous” President Donald Trump was trying to sow doubt about the US presidential election by urging his supporters to vote twice, which is illegal.

“We owe an incredible number of things to the United States and the country remains one of our closest partners but… it is disturbing to see that an American president thinks he might need such” a move, Maas told Sunday’s Bild, Germany’s top-selling daily.

“I have confidence that Americans’ good sense will scupper this unscrupulous effort to sow doubt on the validity of the election with the later aim, probably, of not accepting defeat,” he added.

Trump said earlier this week that voters could use a mail-in vote — which he has slammed as a ruse to rig the election against him — and then also cast a vote at a polling station as a guarantee, with officials left to decide which of the ballots to count.

The president has repeatedly raised doubt over whether he would accept defeat in November’s election, charging that his Democrat Party opponents are doing all they can to fix the outcome.

Relations between Trump and the German government have become increasingly strained over a whole series of issues, especially defense spending, leaving the traditionally strong allies drifting further apart.

AFP

Germany Sees Strong Economic Rebound, No Second COVID-19 Lockdown

Coaches drive towards Berlin's landmark the Victory Column as travel agency workers demonstrate on May 13, 2020. Odd ANDERSEN /AFP
Coaches drive towards Berlin’s landmark the Victory Column as travel agency workers demonstrate on May 13, 2020. Odd ANDERSEN /AFP

 

Germany is in a V-shaped economic recovery and should avoid a new phase of lockdowns, the economy minister said Tuesday, despite a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

German GDP is expected to fall 5.8 percent in 2020, a narrower recession than the 6.3 percent drop projected earlier, Peter Altmaier said, signalling that the country is emerging from the worst of the crisis.

Altmaier said Germany “can and will” avoid lockdowns like Germans lived through in March and April.

“Rising infection rates will be countered by targeted and regionally limited measures, so that the economic recovery can continue to develop gradually in the coming months,” he said.

The country, which has been more resistent to the pandemic than many of its neighbours, reported nearly 1,250 new cases of COVID-19 per day on average over the last week, compared with an average of less than 500 in July and August, and is starting to tighten restrictions again.

Last week, the government announced a minimum fine of 50 euros ($59) for anyone caught without a face mask in places where wearing one is compulsory, a ban on large events until the end of the year and new quarantine rules for travellers returning from regions with high case rates.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former scientist, has won plaudits and seen her approval ratings soar for her handling of the virus, but last week said coping with the outbreak will become more challenging in the coming months.

More than 9,000 people have died with COVID-19 in Germany since the first detected case in January, a lower rate than other major countries in Europe that lived through tougher lockdowns.

It tallies with Germany’s considerably better economic outlook.

France, for example, is expected to see its economy shrink 10.6 percent by the end of 2020, Spain 10.9 percent and Italy 11.2 percent, according to EU statistics.

– ‘Road to recovery’ –

Altmaier said Europe’s largest economy was experiencing “an unfortunately strong slump but then an unexpectedly fast recovery”.

Before a press conference, the minister even showed off a printed V-shaped chart for assembled photographers to highlight the bounce back.

The German economy slumped 9.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020, the “sharpest decline since quarterly GDP calculations for Germany began in 1970,” the federal statistics agency Destatis said previously.

However, the “low point of the recession” passed in May, according to the economy ministry.

Recent surveys have already shown an improvement in business sentiment in the country.

Meanwhile enemployment was stable for the third-straight month, at 6.4 percent in July, the German labour agency said in statistics published Tuesday.

Last week, the Ifo Institute said its monthly barometer of business confidence showed that companies were growing more and more positive about the economic situation, after the index plummeted to record lows in April.

“The German economy is on the road to recovery,” Ifo President Clemens Fuest said of the data.

German Purchasing Managers’ indices, another measure, have also shown expansionary trends since July.

The German economy is expected to grow 4.4 percent in 2021, although pre-crisis GDP levels will not be seen again until 2022, the economy ministry said.

AFP

German Unemployment Stabilises In August

A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows a view of closed restaurants, bars and locations for adult entertainment on the “Grosse Freiheit” street in the red light district of the northern German city of Hamburg on March 19, 2020. MORRIS MAC MATZEN / AFP

 

German unemployment held steady in August, official data showed Tuesday, as Europe’s largest economy adapted to life after lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

The jobless rate ticked up slightly to 6.4 percent from 6.3 percent in July, the BA federal labour agency said, signalling a plateau after a marked rise in unemployment in the early period of the pandemic.

Before the coronavirus struck, unemployment had hovered at around five percent, record lows since reunification. In August 2019, unemployment was 5.1 percent.

The BA blamed the summer break for the rise in unemployment in August.

“Unemployment rose at the usual rate in August, meaning there was no additional coronavirus-related increase in unemployment from July. Nevertheless, the effects of the pandemic on the labour market are still very clearly visible,” said Detlef Scheele, chairman of the labour agency.

Unemployment may continue to rise as companies restructure and the post-corona economy takes shape. German carrier Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline by passengers, said it may cut 22,000 jobs and tour operator giant TUI says it will lay off 8,000 workers.

The impact of the crisis on the job market has been cushioned by Germany’s shorter hours programme, known as Kurzarbeit, in which the government tops up workers’ wages when their working hours are cut.

After an initial surge to 10.6 million in March and April combined, the numbers of new applications for the scheme have come down significantly.

Around 5.4 million people were on Kurzarbeit in June, according to the BA, still considerably higher than at the height of the financial crash in 2009. There were 170,000 new sign-ups to the scheme in August, it added.

AFP

Bayern Munich Star Lewandowski Wins Footballer Of The Year In Germany

Lewandowski’s 55 goals were instrumental in the Bavarians treble-winning 2019/2020 campaign. [email protected]

 

Bayern Munich striker, Robert Lewandowski has won the Footballer of the Year in Germany, just one week after completing a treble with the Bavarians.

The 32-year-old Polish frontman scored 276 votes in the poll conducted by sports magazine, Kicker, to beat teammates Thomas Müller (54) and Joshua Kimmich (49) to the prize.

READ ALSO: Messi Weighs Up Pre-Season Return As Barca Insist On $833m Release Clause

 

Lewandowski, who was in sensational form during the 2019/2020 campaign, netted 55 goals to help Bayern win the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League.

In what many pundits have described as a near-perfect run, the Pole finished as the top scorer in all three competitions, becoming the first non-German after Belgian star Kevin De Bruyne (2015) to win the award.

He scored 34 goals in the just-concluded Bundesliga season, earning him the top scorer prize for the fifth time and also bagged 15 goals in the Champions League and six in the DFB Cup.

 

File photo: Bayern Munich’s German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer raises the European Champion Clubs’ Cup during the trophy ceremony after winning at the end of the UEFA Champions League final football match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 23, 2020. MATTHEW CHILDS / POOL / AFP

 

‘I Have Worked Hard’

Following his spectacular feat, the Polish captain noted that he is proud of his achievements, saying “I have worked hard” for them.

Despite accolades from fans and pundits alike following a spectacular term, the former Borrusia Dortmund forward has set his sights on trying “to surpass them every year.”

Since teaming up with the German side in 2011, Lewandowski has won the best player in his country eight times, earning him the record holder tag for the prize.

Although Bayern Head coach Hansi Flick, does not believe in singling out individual players, the gaffer who was also named as the Coach of the Year, told the club’s website that Lewandowski is “an incredibly important player for us, as are so many others.”

Police In Germany Halt Protest Calling For End To COVID-19 Restrictions

A protester is held by German riot policemen in front of the Reichstag building, which houses the Bundestag lower house of parliament, at the end of a demonstration called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers to protest against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, on August 29, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP
A protester is held by German riot policemen in front of the Reichstag building, which houses the Bundestag lower house of parliament, at the end of a demonstration called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers to protest against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, on August 29, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

 

German police halted a Berlin march by thousands of people opposed to coronavirus restrictions in the biggest of several European protests Saturday against anti-virus curbs and masks to halt the pandemic.

With new Covid-19 cases on the rise, European nations are starting to tighten controls while trying to avoid the major lockdowns imposed earlier this year to contain the outbreak that has killed more than 800,000 people worldwide.

Across the globe, governments are struggling to revive battered economies while managing public frustration over new restrictions and masks to curb infections.

In Germany, around 18,000 people massed in Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, before the rally was forced to stop due to a police injunction because many were not respecting social distancing measures.

The demonstration had initially been allowed to go ahead after a bitter legal battle.

“The minimum distancing is not being respected by most (of the demonstrators) despite repeated requests,” the police said. “There is no other option than to break up the gathering.”

Several thousands stayed on to protest after the announcement, chanting “resistance” and a small group clashed with police, tossing bottles and rocks. Two people were arrested, police said.

A man wrapped in a black-white-red flag leans towards the German riot policemen standing guard in front of the Reichstag building, which houses the Bundestag lower house of parliament, as protesters tried to storm in at the end of a demonstration called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers to protest against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, on August 29, 2020.  John MACDOUGALL / AFP
A man wrapped in a black-white-red flag leans towards the German riot policemen standing guard in front of the Reichstag building, which houses the Bundestag lower house of parliament, as protesters tried to storm in at the end of a demonstration called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers to protest against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, on August 29, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

 

Protesters waved German flags and shouted “Merkel must go!”, a chant often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party against Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I’m not an extreme right-wing sympathiser, I’m here to defend our fundamental freedoms,” said Stefan, a 43-year-old Berlin resident with a shaved head and a T-shirt with the words “Thinking helps” written in large print.

“We’re here to say: we have to be careful! Coronavirus crisis or not, we must defend our freedoms,” Christina Holz, a 22-year-old student, told AFP.

‘Stop the lies’

About 1,000 anti-mask protesters also gathered in the Swiss city of Zurich and a similar number demonstrated in London at the Trafalgar Square landmark, many holding home-made banners.

One called for an “End to medical tyranny”; another read “No to mandatory vaccines” while one man waved a placard declaring “Masks are muzzles”.

Around 300 people protested peacefully in Paris to denounce the government’s decision to make masks obligatory in all public places as cases rise in the French capital.

Participants wave national flags during a gathering on the 17. Juni avenue in Berlin at the end of a demonstration called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers to protest against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic, on August 29, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP
Participants wave national flags during a gathering on the 17. Juni avenue in Berlin at the end of a demonstration called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers to protest against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic, on August 29, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

 

Protesters, some waving placards stating “Stop the lies”, were quickly surrounded by police who handed out 135 euro ($160) fines to those not wearing masks.

“There is no scientific proof of the usefulness of wearing a mask outside,” said Anais, a sociology student.

“Covid-19 is not so dangerous, it mainly kills people over the age of 60.”

‘Anti-Corona’

The pandemic has killed more than 838,000 people worldwide since surfacing in China late last year, and more than 24.7 million cases have been registered. The United States has recorded the highest number of deaths with 181,779.

US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro were among global leaders who initially played down the gravity of the pandemic while others have dismissed the need for social distancing measures.

Many governments now hope tighter mask rules will offset the need for a return to economically-devastating lockdowns, though the French government said it could not rule out new stay-at-home orders.

France on Saturday said there had been 5,400 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours following over 7,400 registered  on Friday.

But the increasing cases did nothing to stop several hundred young party-goers people holding an illegal rave in the centre of the country despite a ban on such events.

Police were out in force and made some arrests but did not forcibly evacuate the youngsters.

Saturday’s Berlin rally came as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Germany, with daily new infection numbers reaching highs not seen since April.

At the start of August, a similar German “anti-corona” march in Berlin took place with 20,000 protesters, a mix of the extreme left and right, anti-vaccination campaigners, conspiracy theorists and self-described “free thinkers”.

Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states on Thursday introduced tougher coronavirus restrictions to curb the pandemic, including a minimum 50 euro ($59) fine for people caught not wearing face masks where one is compulsory.

“We will have to live with this virus for a long time to come,” Merkel warned. “It is still serious. Please continue to take it seriously.”

 

 

AFP

Social Distancing: Germany Police Stop Mass ‘Anti-Corona’ Protest

Protesters hold a banner in front of a policeman during a counter demonstration near the Humboldt university on August 29, 2020 in Berlin, in opposition to a rally called by far-right and COVID-19 deniers against restrictions related to the new coronavirus pandemic.
John MACDOUGALL / AFP

 

German police Saturday halted a march by some 18,000 coronavirus sceptics in Berlin because many were not respecting social distancing measures.

The mass protest against pandemic restrictions had been allowed to go ahead after a bitter legal battle.

But it had barely begun at 0900 GMT at the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, when it was forced to stop due to a police injunction.

“The minimum distancing is not being respected by most (of the demonstrators) despite repeated requests,” the police said. “There is no other option than to break up the gathering.”

After the announcement, the demonstrators shouted “Resistance” and “We are the people,” a slogan often used by the far-right, and sang the German national anthem.

READ ALSO: NBA Playoffs To Resume As Players Keep Focus On Racial Justice

Police had vowed to turn out in force and strictly monitor compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing at the protest.

Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik had warned that if the demonstrators did not adhere to virus safety rules, police would clear the area “very quickly”.

“We will not be able or willing to watch tens of thousands assemble and create infection risks,” she added.

Berlin city authorities had previously decided not to allow the Saturday demonstration to go ahead, fearing that the estimated 22,000 protesters would not keep a distance of 1.5 metres (five feet) apart or comply with face mask requirements.

The ban sparked outrage from organisers and their supporters who flooded social media with angry messages vowing to protest anyway, with some even calling for violence.

But on the eve of the demo, Berlin’s administrative court sided with the demonstrators, saying there was no indication that organisers would “deliberately ignore” social distancing rules and endanger public health.

‘We Must Defend Freedoms’

A crowd, including people of all ages and families with children, had gathered Saturday morning at the Brandeburg Gate, the starting point for the march.

The protesters waved German flags and shouted “Merkel must go!”, a chant often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party against Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I’m not an extreme right-wing sympathiser, I’m here to defend our fundamental freedoms,” said Stefan, a 43-year-old Berlin resident with a shaved head and a T-shirt with the words “Thinking helps” written in large print.

“We’re here to say: we have to be careful! Coronavirus crisis or not, we must defend our freedoms,” Christina Holz, a 22-year-old student, told AFP.

Around 3,000 police officers, including 1,000 federal police, were scheduled to be deployed for the demonstration, alongside specialist equipment including water cannon, Slowik said.

The rally came as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Germany, with daily new infection numbers reaching highs not seen since April.

At a press conference on Friday, Merkel said confronting the virus will become more challenging in the coming autumn and winter months.

Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states on Thursday introduced tougher coronavirus restrictions to curb the pandemic, including a minimum 50 euro ($59) fine for people caught not wearing face masks where one is compulsory.

“We will have to live with this virus for a long time to come. It is still serious. Please continue to take it seriously,” Merkel warned.

Counter Demos

The court decision to allow the protest shines a light on the battle lines being drawn up between those who are content to follow government-mandated protection measures and those who believe that governments shouldn’t be able to dictate how people live.

At the start of August, a similar “anti-corona” march in Berlin took place with 20,000 protesters, a mixture of the hard left and right, anti-vaccination campaigners, conspiracy theorists and self-described “free thinkers”.

Police broke up the protest early after participants repeatedly flouted Covid-19 safety regulations.

The far-right welcomed Friday’s court ruling allowing the latest demo to go ahead, with Leif-Erik Holm, a lawmaker for the anti-migrant AfD party, calling it “a victory for freedom”.

But several groups intend to stage counter-demonstrations to the main protest.

Anne Helm from the left-wing party Die Linke and an MP in Berlin’s parliament, said: “There must be no tolerance towards racists, anti-Semites, right-wing extremists, and Nazis. That is why I call on all Berliners to take part in the counter-events.”

Several countries around the world have seen protests against coronavirus restrictions and lockdown measures in recent months.

AFP

France, Germany Join Nations Tightening Controls To Halt COVID-19 Surge

 

Germany and France drew up tougher rules on Thursday in line with a growing number of countries battling a resurgence in coronavirus infections with Paris making masks obligatory in all public places in a bid to curb a rise of new cases in the city.

European countries are seeing an increase in infections even as they struggle to balance new restrictions against the need for their economies to recover from the devastating impact of the first round of lockdowns.

Britain, South Korea and Rwanda are also tightening their restrictions as fears rise of a return to the draconian anti-virus curbs put in place earlier in the year.

The pandemic has killed more than 826,000 people worldwide since surfacing in China late last year and more than 24 million infections have been recorded.

Germany, the European Union’s biggest economy, will impose tougher rules on mask wearing and keep football fans out of stadiums until at the least the end of the year, under a draft proposal seen by AFP.

The measures — such as a minimum fine of 50 euros ($59) for flouting requirements on mask wearing — are likely to be officially agreed later Thursday.

As in other countries, Germany’s surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has been mainly blamed on summer travel and friends and family gatherings.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday masks will be compulsory in all public places in the capital Paris, one of the hardest hit regions in France.

Official figures released in France on Wednesday showed more than 5,400 confirmed new cases in just 24 hours, with admissions to hospital and intensive care units on the rise.

Castex has warned a new lockdown cannot be ruled out even if the government will try to do everything to avoid one.

European government officials are also trying to instill discipline in their ranks to retain public trust in measures that restrict freedoms.

European Union trade boss Phil Hogan was forced to step down over a breach of guidelines in his home country of Ireland.

– ‘Highly uncertain’ –

Britain, which left the EU in January, meanwhile reversed course and has called on students to wear masks when they return to class from next week.

Keeping mask wearing and other restrictions in place, Rwanda has lengthened its evening curfew and prevented movement in and out of the western area of Rusizi after a recent infections surge.

Rwanda on Tuesday hit a record 217 cases in one day and has recorded a third of its 3,625 cases in the past 10 days, with authorities blaming the spike on complacency and fatigue with social distancing measures.

In South Korea, the parliament was shut down on Thursday and a group of lawmakers were in self-quarantine as the country recorded more than 400 new coronavirus infections.

The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of Covid-19 outside mainland China before bringing it broadly under control with extensive tracing and testing.

The United States, however, broke with the toughening trend even though it leads the world in virus deaths and infections.

US authorities now say asymptomatic people don’t need to test for Covid-19 if they have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the virus.

They had previously encouraged such people to get tested, but US media reported political interference from the White House.

– ‘Historic’ Swiss plunge –

President Donald Trump has long been accused by critics of trying to play down the scale of the pandemic and focus on economic recovery ahead of his re-election bid in November.

The US recovery from the coronavirus economic downturn is “highly uncertain” and many businesses will continue to struggle, a top Federal Reserve official said Wednesday.

Switzerland was the latest example to show how the pandemic has brought the global economy to its knees.

Switzerland, official figures showed, has plunged into recession after the coronavirus pandemic caused a “historic” 8.2-percent slump in economic activity in the second quarter.

Economies have picked up generally since then though there are concerns that the recovery appears to be slowing as coronavirus cases mount again, stoking fears of a repeat of the economically damaging lockdowns seen earlier this year.

In the growing toll on the air transport sector that has seen aircraft grounded worldwide, British aerospace giant Rolls-Royce on Thursday logged a £5.4 billion ($7.1 billion) net loss for the first half of 2020.

And flag carrier Air New Zealand announced a roughly US$300 million annual net loss after demand plummeted due to the pandemic.

Hopes for economic revival are partly pinned on the development of a vaccine, which companies and governments worldwide are racing to develop.

Peru on Wednesday began registering volunteers for clinical trials of a Chinese vaccine against the coronavirus.

AFP