Berlin, Sep 24 (AP/UNB) — Leaders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition reached a deal Sunday to resolve a standoff over the future of the country's domestic intelligence chief, a dispute that has further dented the image of their fractious six-month-old alliance.
The center-left Social Democrats have insisted that Hans-Georg Maassen be removed as head of the BfV spy agency for appearing to downplay recent violence against migrants, but conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has stood by him.
Last week, coalition leaders agreed to replace Maassen as head of the BfV but give him a new job as a deputy interior minister, a promotion with a hefty pay increase. The move prompted a backlash from furious Social Democrats, prompting party leader Andrea Nahles to call for the deal's renegotiation.
On Sunday, coalition leaders agreed instead to make Maassen a "special adviser" at the interior ministry with responsibility for "European and international issues," Seehofer said. He will remain at his current pay level.
In addition, a deputy interior minister and expert on construction issues, Social Democrat Gunther Adler, will now keep his job rather than making way for Maassen. Nahles will have to sell the new compromise to her party's leadership on Monday.
"I think it is a very good signal that we took the criticism of our decision on Tuesday evening seriously and were able to correct it," Nahles told reporters. She declared that "overall, the foundation has been laid for us to return to substantive work."
A left-leaning Social Democrat deputy leader, Ralf Stegner, described it as "a good solution."
The dispute has clouded the government's future at a time when the three parties face major challenges in upcoming state elections, in Seehofer's home state of Bavaria on Oct. 14 and in neighboring Hesse on Oct. 28.
The infighting appears to be weighing down their support, which hasn't recovered since a national election a year ago in which all three coalition parties lost ground and the far-right Alternative for Germany entered parliament.
The coalition of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, Seehofer's Bavaria-only Christian Social Union and the Social Democrats took office in March after Nahles' party decided reluctantly to join up.
It has already been through one crisis that threatened its survival, when Merkel and Seehofer — a conservative ally, but a longtime critic of her initially welcoming approach to refugees in 2015 — faced off in June over whether to turn back some migrants at the German-Austrian border.
Responding to violent right-wing protests following the killing of a German man, allegedly by migrants, in the eastern city of Chemnitz, Maassen said his agency had no reliable evidence that foreigners had been "hunted" down in the streets — a term Merkel had used.
A video posted by a left-wing group showed protesters chasing down and attacking a foreigner but Maassen questioned its authenticity.
Seehofer, Maassen's boss, has insisted that Maassen is a "highly competent" employee who hasn't violated any rules and said he won't outright dismiss him. He accused the Social Democrats of running a "campaign" against Maassen.
Seehofer, who leads the CSU, became interior minister after giving up his previous job as Bavarian governor following last year's national election. There is widespread speculation that a poor election performance in Bavaria next month could threaten his political future.
Dubai, Sep 24 (AP/UNB)— On the same day Arab separatists killed at least 25 people in an attack targeting a military parade in southwestern Iran, President Donald Trump's lawyer mounted a stage in New York to declare that the government would be toppled.
"I don't know when we're going to overthrow them. It could be in a few days, months or a couple of years, but it's going to happen," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Saturday. "They are going to be overthrown. The people of Iran obviously have had enough."
For Iran's Shiite theocracy, comments like these only fuel fears that America and its Gulf Arab allies are plotting to tear the Islamic Republic apart.
Those threats so far haven't led to a military confrontation or violence, but the risk is rising.
"Undoubtedly the Islamic Republic of Iran will not ignore this crime. It is absolutely clear for us who did that, what group they are and with whom they are affiliated," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned before leaving for New York for the United Nations General Assembly. "All of those small mercenary countries that we see in this region are backed by America. It is Americans who instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes."
Rouhani is a relative moderate who was elected twice on promises to improve relations with West, and who signed the 2015 nuclear agreement. At the U.N. General Assembly that year, he declared that "a new chapter had started in Iran's relations with the world."
"For the first time, two sides rather than negotiating peace after war, engaged in dialogue and understanding before the eruption of conflict."
An eruption now seems more likely. What changed in the meantime seems to be the politics of the region and the U.S. While America's Sunni Gulf Arab allies in the region criticized the nuclear deal, many later acknowledged that it did what it was designed to do.
Iran limited its enrichment of uranium, making it virtually impossible for it to quickly develop nuclear weapons, something the government insists it has never sought. In exchange, some international sanctions were lifted, allowing Iran to rejoin the global financial system and sell its crude oil to American allies.
Over time, however, Gulf states adopted an increasingly harder tone with Iran. Officials in Tehran point to comments by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now next in line to the throne in Iran's Mideast archrival.
"We know we are a main target of Iran," Prince Mohammed said in a 2017 interview, shortly before becoming crown prince. "We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia."
He did not elaborate, though the kingdom and its allies were mired then as they are now — in a war in Yemen against Iran-aligned Shiite rebels. While Iran denies arming the rebels, known as Houthis, U.N. investigators, analysts and Western nations all say Tehran supplies weapons ranging from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles, which have been fired deep into Saudi territory.
After Prince Mohammed's comments last year, Saudi-aligned satellite news channels began playing up stories about Iranian opposition and exile groups. They also began publicizing the nighttime pipeline attacks by Arab separatists in Khuzestan, Iran's oil-rich southwestern province, which Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to seize in his 1980s war with Iran.
Those separatists claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack in Ahvaz, Khuzestan's capital, which struck one of many parades in the country marking the start of the 1980s war. Iranian officials, who blame the separatists for the attack, say the militants wore military uniforms and hid their weapons along the parade route ahead of time — showing a level of sophistication previously unseen by the separatists.
There has been no direct evidence linking the separatists to Saudi Arabia. However, Iranian officials have seized on the fact the separatists immediately made their claim of responsibility on a Saudi-linked, Farsi-language satellite news channel based in Britain.
The United States has meanwhile been ramping up pressure on Iran since Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May, restoring crippling sanctions and voicing support for anti-government protests fueled by economic woes.
The Trump administration has said its actions aren't aimed at toppling Iran's government. But in the meantime, Giuliani has continued speaking before meetings of an exiled Iranian opposition group. Before being appointed national security adviser earlier this year, John Bolton gave impassioned speeches calling for regime change.
"The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs' regime in Tehran," Bolton told Iranian exiles in July 2017. "The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.
He added, to cheers: "And that's why before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran."
Liverpool, Sep 24 (AP/UNB) — Britain's main opposition Labour Party confirmed Sunday it will hold a major debate on Brexit at its party conference this week, buoying Labour members hoping to stop the country from leaving the European Union.
With the U.K. and the European Union at an impasse in divorce talks, many Labour members think the left-of-center party has the power — and a duty — to force a new referendum that could reverse Britain's decision to leave the 28-nation bloc.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has long opposed that idea, but he and other party leaders are under pressure to change their minds. As delegates gathered in Liverpool, one message was emblazoned on hundreds of T-shirts and tote bags: "Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit."
Ever since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, Labour has said it will respect the result, although it wants a closer relationship with the bloc than the one Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government is seeking.
Now, with divorce negotiations stuck and Britain due to leave in March, many Labour members think the party must change its course.
"Labour have to come to a decision. The time has gone for sitting on the fence," said Mike Buckley of Labour for a People's Vote, a group campaigning for a new Brexit referendum.
To drive home the message, several thousand People's Vote supporters marched through Liverpool on Sunday, waving blue-and-yellow EU flags alongside Union Jacks and holding signs reading "Exit from Brexit" and a few ruder slogans.
More than 100 local Labour associations submitted motions to the conference urging a public plebiscite, with a choice between leaving on terms agreed upon by the government or staying in the EU.
Party chiefs said Sunday that members and affiliated unions had selected Brexit as one of the priority issues delegates will consider, with a debate scheduled for Tuesday. But what exactly they will vote on has yet to be decided, and will be crucial.
Margaret Mills, a delegate from Orpington in southern England, said her local party had passed a motion calling on Labour to "stop Brexit by any means — well, short of physical violence."
"I think the time for vagueness is over," she said.
Corbyn — a veteran socialist who views the EU with suspicion — has long been against holding a second public vote on Brexit, although his opposition appears to be softening.
He said Sunday that he would prefer a general election rather than a referendum, but added: "Let's see what comes out of conference."
"Obviously I'm bound by the democracy of our party," Corbyn told the BBC.
Still, Labour faces a major political dilemma over Brexit. Most of the party's half a million members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit.
"For Labour to adopt a second referendum policy would spell political disaster in all those Labour seats that voted leave," said Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave.
Since the 2016 referendum, Labour has stuck to a policy of "constructive ambiguity" in a bid to appeal to both "leave" and "remain" voters. The party opposes May's "Tory Brexit" plan but not Brexit itself. It calls for Britain to leave the EU but remain in the bloc's customs union with "full access" to the EU's huge single market.
Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite trade union, a powerful Labour ally, said British voters had decided to leave the EU and "for us now to enter some kind of campaign that opens up that issue again I think would be wrong."
Yet Pro-EU Labour members, including many lawmakers, say the party's ambiguous stance is becoming increasingly untenable as the risk of an economically damaging "hard Brexit" grows.
The Conservative government's blueprint for future trade ties with the bloc was rejected last week by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg, Austria. That left May's leadership under siege and Britain at growing risk of crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no deal in place.
Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords who supports holding a second referendum, said Labour can't sit on the sidelines while the country staggers toward political and financial chaos.
"This is as big a crisis as I can remember in my lifetime," Adonis said. "And no one has a clue at the moment what is going to happen.
"That's why I think we now need to take a stand — we the Labour Party and we the country."
Brexit is one of several challenges facing Corbyn, who heads a divided party. He has strong support among grassroots members, many of whom have joined since he was elected leader in 2015. But many Labour lawmakers think his old-fashioned socialism is a turnoff for the wider electorate.
Labour has also been roiled by allegations that Corbyn, a long-time critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitism to fester inside the party. He has denied it and condemned anti-Semitism, but the furor has angered many Jewish party members and their supporters.
Labour backed the "remain" side during the 2016 referendum but Corbyn's support was lukewarm.
"Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer and always has been," said Chilton of Labour Leave. "More and more people now support us leaving the European Union and getting on with it. ... they don't want to re-fight the referendum."
Male, Sep 24 (AP/UNB) — Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared victory early Monday in the Maldives' contentious presidential election, which was widely seen as a referendum on the island nation's young democracy.
The win was unexpected, and Solih's supporters flooded the streets, hugging one another, waving the Maldivian flag, cheering and honking horns in celebration. The opposition had feared the election would be rigged for strongman President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, whose first term was marked by a crackdown on political rivals, courts and the media. Yameen did not concede, and his campaign couldn't be reached for comment.
"People were not expecting this result. Despite the repressive environment, the people have spoken their minds," said Ahmed Tholal, a former member of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and a project coordinator at the nonprofit watchdog Transparency Maldives.
Solih, 56, was a democracy activist during decades of autocratic rule and a former Parliament majority leader. He became the Maldivian Democratic Party's presidential candidate after its other top figures were jailed or exiled by Yameen's government.
Party leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed, in exile in Sri Lanka, had hoped to run again but was disqualified because of an outstanding prison sentence in the Maldives.
Famed for its sandy white beaches and luxury resorts, the nation of islands and atolls in the southern Indian Ocean has seen economic growth and longer life expectancy under Yameen, according to the World Bank. But democratic freedoms have been curtailed.
Solih campaigned door to door, promising at rallies to promote human rights and the rule of law, a message that resonated with voters who saw signs the Maldives were slipping back to autocratic rule, just a decade after achieving democracy.
"Ibu is totally different from Yameen, because Yameen is a dictator and a brutal person. Ibu is a very mild person who listens to everyone," said Ahamed Fiasal, a 39-year-old IT business owner, using Solih's nickname.
Still, Fiasal said, the result was surprising because "no one thought that Yameen would lose like this. He had all the power — the judiciary, the police, the security forces under him. It seemed he might rig the election even at the last minute and would win somehow or the other."
But Solih had 58.3 percent of the vote with nearly 97.5 percent of ballots counted early Monday, according to independent news website mihaaru.com.
A spokesman for Maldives' Election Commission said official results would not be announced until Saturday, allowing a week for parties to challenge the results in court.
Solih, surrounded by thousands of his supporters in the capital city of Male, urged calm until the commission had announced the results.
In his victory speech, Solih called the election results "a moment of happiness, hope and history," but said that he did not think the election process had been transparent.
A police raid on Solih's main campaign office the night before the election was seen as a worrying sign that Yameen would "muzzle his way" to re-election, according to Hamid Abdul Gafoor, an opposition spokesman and former Maldives lawmaker now based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The European Union had said that it was not sending election observers because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring. The U.S. had threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections were not free and fair.
The State Department congratulated the people of the Maldives for having a peaceful, democratic vote. The statement from spokesperson Heather Nauert noted the reported opposition victory and urged "calm and respect for the will of the people" as the election process was being concluded.
Few foreign media organizations were allowed into the country to cover the election.
Yameen used his first term to consolidate power, jailing opponents, including his half brother, a former president, and two Supreme Court Justices.
In February, Yameen declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges after they had ordered the release and retrial of those jailed after politically motivated trials.
Despite the turmoil, voters flocked to the polls on Sunday, standing in long lines in rain and high temperatures to cast ballots.
More than 260,000 of the Maldives' 400,000 people were eligible, and voters also stood in long lines in Malaysia, the U.K., India and Sri Lanka, where the opposition had encouraged overseas Maldivians to participate.
Male, Sept 23 (AP/UNB) — A raid on the opposition's main campaign office and the specter of U.S. sanctions on government officials were not deterring thousands of people from heading to the polls Sunday to vote in the Maldives' presidential election, widely seen as a referendum on the island nation's young democracy.
Famed for its white-sand beaches and luxury resorts, the Maldives under President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who is seeking re-election, has seen economic growth and longer life expectancy, according to the World Bank. But Yameen's critics, including the opposition presidential candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, say he has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms, jailing rivals and controlling courts.
Aiman Rasheed of the independent watchdog group Transparency Maldives described Sunday's vote as "a referendum on authoritarianism versus freedom."
What's at stake in the small South Asian country came into sharp focus on Saturday, when police in Male, the capital, raided Solih's main campaign office, citing police intelligence that the office was being used to organize vote-buying, according to a copy of a police warrant obtained by The Associated Press.
Opposition supporters in the Maldives and in neighboring Sri Lanka, where former President Mohamed Nasheed is living in exile, decried the raid as a naked attempt to rig the vote in favor of Yameen.
The warrant also said that Solih's senior campaign official Ahmed Shahid was suspected of bribing voters. Repeated calls to Shahid went unanswered, but a Solih campaign spokesman said no one was arrested.
After several phone calls and messages, and a visit to Male police headquarters, police spokesman Ahmed Shiffan declined to answer the AP's questions about the raid.
Despite the turmoil, voters flocked to the polls, standing in long lines in rain and high temperatures to cast ballots. The polls were scheduled to close at 4 p.m., but opening hours were extended until 7 p.m. due to high voter turnout, said election commission spokesman Ahmed Akram.
Outside a polling station at the Imauddin School in Male, aviation worker Mohamed Ismail, 23, said he cast his ballot for Solih because "people live in fear" under strongman President Yameen, who took office in 2013.
Yameen used his first term in office to consolidate power, jailing opponents, including his half brother, a former president, and two Supreme Court Justices, and asserting control over the courts.
The European Union said Friday that it was not sending election observers because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring. The U.S. has threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections are not free and fair.
"Look around. People are moving freely," said Adam Thaufeeg, a 40-year-old government employee, who said he voted for Yameen because of his vision for developing the Maldives.
More than 260,000 of the Maldives' 400,000 people were eligible to vote at about 400 polling stations across the islands that comprise the Indian Ocean archipelago.