Two Killed In Kashmir As Trump Offers To Mediate

 

A suspected militant and a policeman were killed in the first gun battle since New Delhi stripped Indian Kashmir of its autonomy, police said Wednesday after US President Donald Trump offered to mediate the “explosive” situation.

In a further sign of rising tensions, Pakistan said meanwhile that three of its civilians died in Indian gunfire from across the de-facto border in Kashmir known as the Line of Control (LoC).

The Press Trust of India news agency quoted officials as saying one Indian soldier died and four were wounded when Pakistani troops opened fire on forward posts and villages along the LoC in the Poonch district on Tuesday.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and the situation in Kashmir, divided between them since 1947, is further complicated by the fact that China also claims part of the Himalayan region.

READ ALSO: US Asks India To Free Detainees, Restore Rights In Kashmir

Trump — who has previously spoken of his willingness to mediate — said he would raise the situation over the weekend with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both men are expected in France for a summit of the Group of Seven industrialised nations.

“Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have Hindus and you have the Muslims and I wouldn’t say they get along so great,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“I will do the best I can to mediate,” he added.

At least 4,000 people have been detained in Indian-controlled Kashmir, according to security and government sources, since early August when authorities imposed a communications blackout and restricted freedom of movement in the region.

Highlighting the growing international concern, a senior US official, who has just returned from a visit to the region, called on India Tuesday to quickly release detainees and restore basic liberties.

“We continue to be very concerned by reports of detentions, and continued restrictions on the residents of the region,” the State Department official told reporters.

“We urge respect for individual rights, compliance with legal procedures and an inclusive dialogue,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials in France said that President Emmanuel Macron would bring up Kashmir with Modi when the two meet in Paris ahead of the G7 summit.

Johnson speaks to Modi

Earlier this year India and Pakistan again came close to all-out conflict over the region after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, sparking tit-for-tat air strikes.

India has bristled at any suggestion of foreign mediation and strenuously denied a claim by Trump last month that Modi had invited him to act a peacebroker.

It was also left seething when the UN Security Council held its first formal meeting on Kashmir in nearly half a century last week, saying it would not accept “international busybodies… tell(ing) us how to run our lives.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Modi in a phone call on Tuesday that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved between India and Pakistan alone, Downing Street said.

An Indian statement said Modi had raised with Johnson the “violence and vandalism perpetrated by a large mob against the High Commission of India in London” on August 15.

Several thousand people had protested in London that day over India’s Kashmir move. Police separated them from a smaller pro-Indian counter-demonstration and made at least one arrest.

‘Terrorist’ killed

Clashes are common between Indian security forces and militants opposed to Indian rule, with tens of thousands of people killed in the past 30 years, most of them civilians, adding to public resentment towards New Delhi.

But the latest gun battle north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, reported by Kashmir police on Wednesday, since the August 5 move.

“One terrorist killed… Arms and ammunition recovered. Our colleague SPO (special police officer) Billal attained martyrdom. SI (subinspector) Amardeep Parihar injured in the incident is being treated at Army Hospital,” Kashmir Zone Police said on Twitter.

A later tweet said that the dead militant was identified as a local man “affiliated” with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

LeT is a UN-listed militant organisation based in Pakistan and is accused by India and Washington of masterminding the four-day Mumbai attacks in 2008.

At Least 4,000 Detained In Kashmir Since Autonomy Stripped

 

Thousands of people have been detained in Indian Kashmir over fears of unrest since New Delhi stripped the restive region of its autonomy two weeks ago, government sources told AFP.

A magistrate speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity said at least 4,000 people were arrested and held under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.

READ ALSO: UN Security Council To Discuss Kashmir On Friday

“Most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity,” the magistrate said, adding that he had used a satellite phone allocated to him to collate the figures from colleagues across the Himalayan territory amid a communications blackout imposed by authorities.

UK Opposition Seeks To Oust PM To Avoid No-Deal Brexit

 

 

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn urged parliament Wednesday to oust Prime Minister Boris Johnson before he takes the splintered country out of the EU without a deal.

Corbyn called on members of other parties who fear the economic consequences of a chaotic “no-deal Brexit” to vote no-confidence in Johnson’s government and appoint a caretaker one in its place.

He offered to lead the new cabinet on a “strictly time-limited” basis so that he can ask leaders of the other 27 EU member states to postpone the October 31 divorce date.

“I would then, as leader of the opposition, seek the confidence of the House for a strictly time-limited temporary government with the aim of calling a general election, and securing the necessary extension,” Corbyn said in a letter to top pro-European and moderate lawmakers.

“In that general election, Labour will be committed to a public vote on the terms of leaving the European Union, including an option to Remain.”

Corbyn did not spell out when he intended to put the motion of no-confidence up for a vote.

A Downing Street spokesman said Corbyn’s proposal would “overrule the referendum and wreck the economy”.

‘A nonsense’

Johnson campaigned to succeed Theresa May as ruling Conservative Party leader last month on a promise to take Britain out of the bloc by the twice-delayed deadline at any cost.

The British parliament three times rejected the separation terms May signed with her EU counterparts last year.

Lawmakers were particularly troubled by the “backstop” — a mechanism that would keep the UK in EU customs arrangements to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Brussels says the fallback option is needed to preserve the integrity of European trade and avoid risking a return of sectarian violence in Britain’s Northern Ireland.

Johnson insisted on Wednesday that he was not trying to end Britain’s 46-year involvement in the Europe project without a plan for what comes next.

But he stressed that Brussels had to give ground in order to avoid a sudden rupture in trade and diplomatic ties.

“The more they think there’s a chance Brexit can be blocked in parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position,” Johnson said.

A faction of more moderate lawmakers have been discussing ways to keep Johnson from following through on his no-deal threat for weeks.

Yet leaders of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats have opposed putting Corbyn — a socialist whose position on Europe has been vague — in charge of a new government.

“Jeremy Corbyn is not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons for this task,” Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said in response to Corbyn’s letter.

“It is a nonsense.”

It is also far from clear whether snap general elections would see more EU-friendly parties come out on top.

European Parliament polls held in May saw populist Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party finish first with 30 percent of the vote.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour came in second and third while the Conservatives managed a dismal fourth-place showing that contributed to May’s downfall.

Kremlin Says Spies Watching Russian Scientists ’24/7′

Russia Flag

 

 

Foreign spies keen to get their hands on Russian research are monitoring Russian scientists around the clock, the Kremlin said Wednesday, after experts denounced a new security decree as a Soviet throwback.

The Kremlin’s comments came after scientists criticised a ministry directive calling on researchers not to meet foreign colleagues one-on-one and requesting filed reports after every encounter — even a cup of coffee.

“Of course we must be somewhat vigilant, because foreign special services are on alert,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov when questioned on the decree from the science and education ministry.

“There is such a thing as scientific and industrial espionage,” Peskov said. “It exists 24/7 and is targeting our scientists, especially young scientists.”

He noted however that some of the decree’s provisions “sound excessive” adding that Russia “should not be bound by some rules that won’t lead to anything good.”

The decree recommending new rules on contacting foreign scientists — or Russian scientists working for foreign institutions — was made public by Alexander Fradkov from a mechanical engineering institute.

He called the rules “absurd” and urged authorities to retract them.

Another scientist working in a physics institute confirmed to AFP that the decree — which is marked for internal use — is real.

The document imposes significant red tape on any visits by foreigners into Russian institutes, asking that they are always accompanied by a designated employee.

It requests special restrictions on their use of computers, phones and other devices, including watches and binoculars.

Fradkov told AFP that the decree reminds him of Soviet-era rules which asked that researchers always met with foreigners along with a colleague, so that one scientist could report on the other if necessary.

“All science is built on communication and exchange of information,” he told AFP. “If you go by the decree, then even having a cup of coffee with a foreign colleague requires a report afterwards.”

On Wednesday, the deputy chief of Russia’s Academy of Sciences Alexei Khokhlov joined the criticism of the decree, writing on Facebook that it goes against the government’s goals to increase the number of foreign students and ease their subsequent employment in Russia.

The science and education ministry on Wednesday argued that the decree “reflected global practice” on international scientific conduct, according to a statement quoted by TASS agency.

Trump Says Xi Can ‘Quickly, Humanely Solve’ Hong Kong Standoff

(FILES)(COMBO) This combination of file pictures shows US President Donald Trump and China’s leader Xi Jinping. Ed Jones, Paul J. RICHARDS / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said Xi Jinping can “humanely” resolve the violent standoff with protesters in Hong Kong and appeared to suggest meeting the Chinese leader.

“I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it,” Trump tweeted from vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“Personal meeting?” he added in what appeared to be an idea for offering his own help to Xi directly.

Protesters have staged 10 weeks of relentless protests to demand greater freedoms in Hong Kong, including rallies that paralyzed the semi-autonomous city’s airport, one of the world’s busiest travel hubs.

The United States has said it is “deeply concerned” over Chinese security force movements on the border with Hong Kong and urged Beijing to honor the territory’s autonomy.

Under a 1997 deal that saw Hong Kong return to China from British colonial rule, the city is meant to have far greater liberties than those allowed on the mainland.

AFP

US To Accelerate Missile Program After INF Treaty Exit

 

The United States is to accelerate its development of new cruise and ballistic missile systems following its withdrawal from a nuclear treaty with Russia, the Pentagon said on Friday.

Accusing Russia of “sustained and repeated violations” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US had already begun work to develop “mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.”

As the United States had “scrupulously complied” with its obligations to the 1987 treaty until its formal withdrawal, “these programs are in the early stages,” Esper said in a statement.

“Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions.

“The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity,” he added.

Moscow has said that Washington is making a “serious mistake” pulling out of the treaty, insisting that the US had abandoned the agreement for its own gain rather than because of alleged Russian violations.

AFP

Court Dismisses PDP’s Appeal On Forensic Expert

Court To Decide Certificate Case Against Buhari Today
A file photo of the Court of Appeal in Abuja

 

A Court of Appeal in Kaduna State has dismissed an appeal against the ruling of the Kaduna State Governorship Election Tribunal, filed by the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and its gubernatorial candidate, Isa Ashiru.

The appellants had gone to court, challenging the ruling of the Governorship election petitions tribunal for refusing to allow a forensic expert to testify before it due to the expiration of the 14 day time frame given to them to present witnesses.

The Appeal Court however , upheld the ruling of the tribunal on Thursday, on grounds that the time line for the appellants to produce witnesses had lapsed on July 4.

Delivering Judgement on Thursday, the presiding judge, Justice M. A. Adumein states that the tribunal has no powers to extend the timeline given to parties to produce witnesses.

READ ALSO: Presidential Election Tribunal Adjourns Until August 21

According to the judgement, any attempt to extend the date will amount to a nullity.

It will be recalled that PDP and Ashiru had called a forensic expert to give evidence on the documents that were used by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) on the March 9 election.

Both counsels to Governor Nasir El Rufai and APC had raised objections to the motion, arguing that they were only served with the witness’s statement shortly before the court session began.

According to the counsel, they needed time to read the statement in order to prepare for cross examination, pleading that the tribunal should stop the witness from testifying.

Counsel to PDP, Dr Paul Ananaba had rejected the objections on the ground that he had earlier informed the tribunal that he will subpoena a forensic expert.

Ruling on the matter, the Tribunal Chairman , Justice Ibrahim Bako said that the petitioners failed to present the statement within the stipulated time frame, therefore the witness has lost the right to testify.

Trump Uncorks French Wine Threat In Digital Tax Retaliation

 

US President Donald Trump vowed “substantial” retaliation against France on Friday for a tax targeting US tech giants, hinting he may slap tariffs on French wine and blasting President Emmanuel Macron’s “foolishness.”

“France just put a digital tax on our great American technology companies,” Trump tweeted about the law, which targets US giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

“We will announce a substantial reciprocal action on Macron’s foolishness shortly,” he said.

A proud teetotaler who says he has never even drunk a beer, Trump heavily hinted that the countermeasure might hit one of France’s export crown jewels: wine.

“I’ve always said American wine is better than French wine!” the president said.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire indicated that Paris was not intimidated.

“Universal taxation of digital activities is a challenge for us all. We want to reach an agreement within the G7 and the OECD. In the meantime, France will implement its national decisions,” Le Maire said.

Sour grapes

Trump has generally got along well with Macron, avoiding some of the more stormy episodes marring traditionally stable relations with other close US allies in Europe and Asia.

But his drive to correct what he sees as unfair trade practices by allies and rivals alike has stirred unprecedented discord.

And this is not the first time that he has mused about taking aim at France’s renowned wine industry.

In June, he told CNBC television that domestic wine makers had complained to him about the difficulties of entering the European market.

“You know what? It’s not fair. We’ll do something about it,” he said.

The current row, however, is linked to a law passed by the French parliament this month on taxing digital companies for income even if their headquarters are elsewhere. This would aim directly at US-based global giants like Amazon.

Britain has announced plans for a similar tax.

Deputy White House spokesman Judd Deere noted that France’s digital services tax was already the subject of an investigation at the US Trade Representative’s office, potentially opening the door to economic sanctions.

Washington is “extremely disappointed by France’s decision to adopt a digital services tax at the expense of US companies and workers,” Deere said.

“The Trump administration has consistently stated that it will not sit idly by and tolerate discrimination against US-based firms,” he said in a statement.

“The administration is looking closely at all other policy tools.”

Transatlantic drinks tab

Wine from the likes of California does face higher barriers than European imports in the other direction.

Depending on the type and alcohol content, imported wine faces US duties of 5.3 cents to 12.7 cents (5 to 12 euro centimes) a bottle, according to the US International Trade Commission. Sparkling wines are taxed a higher rate of about 14.9 cents a bottle.

US wines shipped to the European Union face duties of 11 to 29 cents a bottle, according to the Wine Institute, a trade body promoting US exports.

According to France’s Federation for Wine and Spirit Exporters, a bottle of American white wine with an alcohol volume of 13 percent will be subjected to an 11-cent tax, while an equivalent bottle of European wine would pay about half that to enter the US.

The EU is the biggest importer of US wines. However, American wine exports are dwarfed in volume by the far bigger output from France, Italy, and Spain.

AFP

Tourism Minister Arrested For Corruption In Harare

 

 

Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption agency said Thursday it had detained Environment and Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira, the first high-profile arrest since it was overhauled by President Emmerson Mnangagwa this month.

According to state-owned daily The Herald, the minister is being held over the alleged disappearance of millions of dollars at the country’s pension fund when she was social welfare minister.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) said in a tweet: “we can confirm that the Minister of Tourism is currently in our custody for questioning and possible due processes”.

Mupfumira was fired as social welfare minister by ex-president Robert Mugabe weeks before a military-led coup that toppled the long-time ruler in November 2017.

READ ALSO: Tunisia’s President Beji Essebsi Dies At 92

She was reappointed after the putsch, in a new portfolio.

Mupfumira is the first sitting minister of the ruling Zanu-PF party to be arrested for graft under Mnangagwa’s new administration.

The ZACC was created during the Mugabe era but was criticised for being ineffective. Mnangagwa appointed a new team on July 15.

Critics had expressed doubts over the new commission because it was led by High Court Judge Loice Matanda-Moyo, the wife of army general Sibusiso Moyo who was involved in the coup that ousted Mugabe and is now foreign minister.

Manangagwa has identified endemic corruption as a major contributor to the country’s economic woes and vowed to root it out.

Britain’s Johnson Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ Brexit Deal

 

Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday called the current Brexit deal negotiated with the EU “unacceptable” and set preparations for leaving the bloc without an agreement as a “top priority” for the government.

In a pugnacious debut in parliament, the former London mayor urged EU leaders to rethink their opposition to renegotiating the deal.

After installing a right-wing government following a radical overhaul, Johnson doubled down on his promise to lead Britain out of the EU by October 31 at any cost.

In case of a no-deal exit, he also threatened to withhold the £39 billion ($49 billion) divorce bill that Britain has previously said it owes the EU and instead spend the money for preparations for leaving with no agreement.

Johnson told a raucous session of parliament in which he was repeatedly shouted down by opposing MPs that the draft deal his predecessor Theresa May reached with the 27 EU leaders would “sign away our economic independence”.

“Its terms are unacceptable to this parliament and to this country,” Johnson said — a day after purging more than half the ministers in his predecessor Theresa May’s team.

“Today is the first day of a new approach, which will end with our exit from the EU on 31 October,” the 55-year-old said.

Right-wing government

Johnson has assembled a team of social conservatives and Brexit hardliners who argue that leaving the EU after 46 years without an agreement will be less painful than economists warn.

The markets were relieved by the appointment of former Deutsche Bank Sajid Javid as finance chief.

The pound held steady against the dollar and euro as traders waited for Johnson’s first policy moves.

Other appointments were more divisive.

Brexit hardliner Dominic Raab became foreign secretary and Jacob Rees-Mogg — leader of a right-wing faction of Conservatives who helped bring about May’s demise — as the government’s parliament representative.

New interior minister Priti Patel has previously expressed support for the death penalty and voted against same-sex marriage.

The Labour opposition-backing Mirror newspaper called it “Britain’s most right-wing government since the 1980s”.

‘Not in the real world’

Johnson argues that his threat of a chaotic end to Britain’s EU involvement will force Brussels to relent and give London better terms that would let it pursue trade deals with powers such as China and the United States.

Brexit backers in parliament had accused May of ignoring voters’ wishes by promising to keep the UK tied to the bloc’s economic rules if necessary to preserve a free-flowing border between EU member Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland.

Johnson’s solution for the frontier revolves around proposals that have been rejected as either unworkable or insufficient by both EU and Irish leaders.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar — his heavily trade-dependent nation standing to lose most from a messy EU-UK split — bluntly told Johnson on Wednesday that he needed to compromise.

EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said in Brussels on Thursday that the bloc’s position “remains unchanged”.

“The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible,” Andreeva said.

Diplomatic dilemmas

Johnson will have the backing of his governing Conservative party but not the nation in his first days in office.

He beat the now-former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt by a two-to-one margin in a vote held by fewer than 160,000 paying members of the Conservatives.

But a YouGov survey found his approval rating in Britain as a whole at just 31 percent.

Even his biggest critics in London and Brussels have been willing to give Johnson a chance to try his own luck at resolving the Brexit mess.

But his problems further abroad are more immediate — and just as challenging.

Iran’s seizure last Friday of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf thrusts Johnson into the middle of the Islamic republic’s escalating standoff with US President Donald Trump.

And Trump’s bid to contain China’s global clout has forced Britain into an uncomfortable choice over what technology to use in its now-delayed rollout of the next-generation 5G data network.

Johnson boasts a friendship with Trump that his doubters fear will make Britain beholden to the mercurial White House chief’s unpredictable foreign policies.

His supporters, however, say the relationship could boost Britain’s chances of clinching a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States.

AFP

New PM Johnson Brings Brexit Gang Back Together

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement in the House of Commons in London on July 25, 2019.

 

From his top cabinet ministers down to his communications staff, Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with colleagues who helped him win the 2016 Brexit vote.

His decision to get the “Vote Leave” campaign team back together emphasises how determined he is to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31, even without an agreement with Brussels.

But the reshuffle caused alarm among MPs who oppose his “no deal” stance, while some new appointments sparked speculation he is gearing up for an election if parliament tries to stop him.

“Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility. After this shuffle, they can’t be,” wrote Paul Goodman, editor of Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome.

He added: “These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.”

‘No compromise’

Johnson took over from Theresa May at Downing Street on Wednesday, and within minutes had sacked or forced out around a dozen ministers, while a handful more resigned before they were pushed.

His first appointment was Dominic Cummings, a highly effective but combative back-room operator who was Vote Leave’s campaign director and is now a top adviser.

Johnson kept on Michael Gove, who like the new premier is a key figurehead of the 2016 campaign, but moved him from the environment ministry to a role coordinating “no deal” planning.

Other Vote Leave stars such as Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab and Theresa Villiers — some of whom quit May’s cabinet in protest at her Brexit plan — have returned to senior jobs.

READ ALSO: Embattled Puerto Rico Governor Resigns After Protests

Campaign chief executive Matthew Elliott, who previously founded the low tax lobbying group the Taxpayers Alliance, is also reported to be an adviser to new finance minister Sajid Javid.

Johnson has promised “strong leadership” to end “three years of indecision” over Brexit under May, and eurosceptics were delighted with his cabinet.

“Wahooooooo! We’re taking back control and defeating the Remain establishment!” tweeted Darren Grimes, another member of the 2016 campaign, citing its pro-Brexit slogan, “Take Back Control”.

Others were appalled, however.

“Johnson’s new administration is not only the most rabidly right wing in my lifetime but represents a near wholesale takeover by Vote Leave,” said Matthew Pennycook, a Brexit spokesman for the Labour party.

“There can be no compromise with it. We have 98 days to do whatever it takes to prevent a disastrous ‘no deal’ exit from the EU.”

‘Ready for an election’

Leading eurosceptic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was appointed the government’s minister in the House of Commons, dismissed talk of a takeover.

“To characterise it as a Vote Leave coup is a mistake and is forgetting that the chancellor of the Exchequer (Javid) and the international trade secretary were both remainers,” he told ITV news.

Javid, a former banker, and new trade secretary Liz Truss have since converted to the Brexit cause.

Liam Fox, Truss’s predecessor as trade minister, was also a key figure in the 2016 campaign but had been critical of the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit and was sacked.

Johnson’s critics say he has no plan for delivering Brexit, noting that the challenges that caused May to fail remain.

He has pledged to renegotiate the divorce deal May struck with Brussels, after parliament rejected it three times — but EU leaders say they will not.

Meanwhile parliament is strongly opposed to leaving without a deal, setting up a stand-off that many believe can only result in an election.

Johnson told his MPs this week that an election was not a priority, but others think otherwise.

Rupert Harrison, ex-chief of staff to former finance minister George Osborne, said Cummings “is first and foremost a campaigner — Boris getting ready for an election.”

AFP

Grannies For Future: 100-Year-Old German Enters Politics

Lisel Heise, one hundered years of age and member of the town council points at something as she walks on a street on July 4, 2019 in the southwestern German city of Kirchheimbolanden. DANIEL ROLAND / AFP

 

German great-grandmother Lisel Heise’s ambition to enter politics crystalised a few years before her 100th birthday when organisers of a public hearing cut off her microphone.

Heise, who retired from teaching school 40 years ago, was arguing for the reopening of an outdoor pool.

“When I started out, some people really didn’t want to listen to me apparently — they even pulled the plug!” she said, still stunned by the impudence.

“Now people from around the world are coming to talk to me. Who’s laughing now?”

What changed was Heise’s election, against the odds, to the town council of Kirchheimbolanden in southwestern Germany just weeks after she embarked on her second century on the planet.

It was no accident that the pool galvanised Heise, given two issues close to her heart: young people and public health.

Those concerns have also dovetailed in another pet cause: climate protection.

The remarkably spry Heise says she has taken inspiration from the Fridays for Future youth protest movement.

“The kids really give me hope. There is a tendency in politics to favour the car industry and that’s counterproductive,” she said.

“It’s great that the youth aren’t just waiting for the grownups to do something.”

‘Bundles of energy’

Heise, who takes daily walks through the quaint old town of Kirchheimbolanden, population 8,000, is part of a groundswell of seniors unwilling to sit out their dotage on the sidelines of public life.

The Omas Gegen Rechts (Grannies Against the Right) action group fighting extremism launched in Austria in 2017 and has since expanded to Germany. It regularly rallies elderly women, drawing on the lessons of history to stand up to racism.

Heise’s political career began in earnest earlier this year when a town council member, Thomas Bock, 59, saw her as a potential ally.

Bock runs the political group Wir fuer Kibo (WfK, roughly We for Kibo, the town’s nickname), which is agitating against the established parties for more transparency and accountability.

He needed a candidate who would have the gravitas and passion to fight the powers that be.

“She’s got a strong character and bundles of energy,” he said.

Bock said the fact that most middle-aged Kirchheimbolanden natives had had Heise as a teacher when they were young was also a distinct advantage.

“Everyone respects her,” Bock said.

‘Chance to right some wrongs’

The town has been governed for more than two decades by Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU, most recently in a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats just like the one Merkel leads in Berlin.

But WfK’s success has helped shift the majority, and now a new alliance of left-leaning parties is ready to take over the 24-member council.

Heise said her election was pure luck. “But now that I have the chance to right some wrongs, I’m going to seize it,” she added.

Not only is Heise a political rising star but also, of course, a witness to much of Germany’s tumultuous 20th century.

Born in the aftermath of World War I, Heise said her father Fritz Waltgenbach, who owned a shoe factory, was also a town council member.

After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, he spoke out before his peers against the torching of the local synagogue and the persecution of Jews in their midst.

“The Nazis always talked about freedom but (in fact) you had to do what the party said and it led to awful things,” Heise said.

Waltgenbach spent several weeks in prison until a friend intervened with well-placed connections in Berlin, preventing him from being packed off to a concentration camp.

Heise said she likes to think she inherited some of his civic courage.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” she smiled.

‘Ashamed’ of Trump link

Heise lives a short walk from the site of the former synagogue, where a mature tree and a memorial now stand, in the sprawling house she once shared with her parents.

Widowed four years ago after more than seven decades of marriage, she now lives there with one of her four children and an adult grandson. She has eight great-grandchildren.

Heise regularly entertains visitors in her sitting room, which is filled with books including a prominently displayed volume of photos of Barack Obama.

“A politician needs to have a vision and think logically but also humanistically,” she said.

US President Donald Trump, whose ancestors came from the nearby village of Kallstadt, is “turning the world upside down”, she said.

“I’m ashamed his grandfather is from here.”

Heise stays physically and mentally fit working in her flower garden and watching political talk shows.

Cafe owner Sepandar Lashkari, 44, said Heise had been one of his first customers when he opened for business a few years ago and they’ve been close friends ever since.

Lashkari, who moved to Germany from Iran as a teenager, called Heise “great publicity for the town”. He said she had also drained some of the cynicism that tends to pervade politics.

“A lot of people have become more politically active because of her,” he said. “She inspires young and old in a really positive way.”

AFP