Germany’s Political Parties Bargain to Determine Next Government

The wrangling over who will control Germany’s government has begun among the top four finishing parties following parliamentary elections.

The Social Democrats (SPD), led by Olaf Scholz, defeated outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) 25.8% to 24.1%, handing the conservative party its worst ever defeat.  

But since neither party won enough votes to control the Bundestag – the lower house of parliament – they must work with the third-place finishers, the Green party, which received 14.8% of the vote, and fourth place finishers, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), which received 11.5%.

The Greens and FDP agreed Tuesday to meet with each other first before discussions with the SPD or CDU. A photo was released to the media showing Green party candidate Annalena Baerbock with FDP leader Christian Lindner.

While the two parties have some common ground, they have traditionally belonged to rival ideological camps and have different approaches to issues including the economy and fighting climate change.

During media briefings with reporters Wednesday, both parties said they have scheduled meetings with the SPD and CDU, as well another meeting with each other.  

But traditionally, the Greens have leaned more toward the SPD’s left-center politics, and the FDP has been more aligned with the more conservative CDU, and their leadership indicated Wednesday that may not have changed.

When asked which coalition his party preferred, FDP General Secretary Volker Wissing said, “Our preference was based on content and since the parties’ content has not changed, the preference of course remains the same.”

At her own news conference, while stressing they were meeting with all parties, the Green party leader Baerbock, said that since SPD was the winner of the election, it was important to meet with them first.  

The Green and FDP leaders said they scheduled talks with the two first-place finishing parties for this Saturday and Sunday, followed by deliberations with their own party membership.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Kosovo, Serbia Reach Deal to End Border Tensions

Kosovo agreed on Thursday to withdraw police units from its northern border with Serbia to end a mounting dispute over vehicle license plates that briefly escalated into violence and prompted NATO to step up its patrols.

The accord negotiated in Brussels calms the latest flare-up in a decades-old standoff between Serbia and Kosovo but does not resolve a bigger issue blocking European Union membership talks: that Serbia and its former province Kosovo should normalize relations following Pristina’s 2008 independence.

“We have a deal,” said Miroslav Lajcek, the EU’s envoy dealing with one of Europe’s toughest territorial disputes. “After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been reached,” he said on Twitter, where he posted the details.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar was in Brussels to show support for E.U.-led talks, which he said showed the potential for more progress in the Balkans.

“I think we can make enormous strides in helping the Balkans get over a very difficult period during the ’90s and hopefully, eventually become more integrated with the European Union,” Escobar said on a briefing call with reporters.

However, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic played down hopes of any broader breakthrough for now. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

“I think the agreement is fair for the citizens. I would like us to be able to find more lasting solutions. That would not include recognition of Kosovo,” Vucic told a news conference in Serbia, where he was hosting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

 

Special stickers

 

Under the agreement, NATO troops will replace the Kosovar police units on the border, who will withdraw from Saturday. From Monday, both countries will place special stickers on car license plates to remove national symbols and allow the free movement of citizens.

NATO has had some 5,000 troops in Kosovo under a United Nations mandate since June 1999, overseeing a fragile peace following a U.S.-led bombing campaign to end ethnic conflict.

The new agreement ends a ban instigated by Kosovo for all drivers from Serbia to show a temporary, printed registration. Pristina said its move was in retaliation for measures in force in Serbia against drivers from Kosovo since 2008.

Lajcek said he was working on a longer-term solution.

The confrontation was a reminder to the wider world of the larger Kosovo-Serbia dispute that was the EU’s to resolve, diplomats said. One senior diplomat in Brussels said the latest flare-up was, in part, an attempt to get Brussels’s attention as the process towards EU membership has stalled.

Ahead of a Balkan-EU summit on Oct. 6 in Slovenia, Reuters reported on Tuesday that the 27 member states have so far been unable to agree a declaration reaffirming their 18-year-old pledge of future EU membership for the western Balkan states.

Court Convicts Former French Leader Sarkozy in Campaign Finance Case

A court in France has sentenced former President Nicolas Sarkozy to one year in prison after finding him guilty of illegal campaign financing during his 2012 reelection campaign.

Prosecutors said Sarkozy spent nearly double the amount allowed under French law ahead of the election won by challenger Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007-2012, denied wrongdoing.  His lawyer said he will appeal the court’s decision.

The court said he could serve his sentence at home while wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption in a separate trial in March, and was sentenced to three years in prison with two years of the term suspended. He has appealed that verdict.

British Government to Use Army to Help Ease Fuel Trucker Shortage

Britain’s business minister said Wednesday the army would begin driving fuel tankers in response to shortages at gas stations around the nation brought on by a dearth of truck drivers.

For about a week now, a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers in Britain has made it difficult for oil companies to get gasoline from refineries to fueling stations. The British Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) reported Wednesday that more than a third of the nation’s 8,500 gas stations remain without fuel.

The situation has left long lines of motorists trying to buy fuel at stations that did have gasoline.

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told reporters they could expect to see soldiers driving tanker trucks to help get gasoline to the stations in a few days. He added that he felt the situation was stabilizing, noting that the inflow of gasoline matched sales on Tuesday. 

The situation had been exacerbated by panic buying among some motorists, but Kwarteng said people were “behaving quite responsibly” over the last day or so, and he encouraged them to continue buying fuel as they normally would.

The British business minister said Britain was not alone in facing a truck driver shortage. He said Poland is facing a shortage of about 123,000 drivers, and the United States is facing a similar situation. 

In a release on their website, the PRA reported “early signs that the crisis at pumps is ending,” with more of the association’s members reporting they are now receiving deliveries of fuel. 

They expect the percentage of stations without fuel is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours.

The driver shortage, however, is raising fears in Britain’s retail sector that if it continues much longer, it could create problems for the holiday season.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

«Важливо, щоб угорська сторона не керувалася емоціями» – МЗС про газову угоду Угорщини та Росії

«Виключення України з системи транзиту газу в цій угоду було ключовою вимогою російської сторони і на цю вимогу угорська сторона пристала», – вважають у МЗС

Russia Threatens YouTube Block After RT TV’s German Channels Are Deleted

Russia threatened Wednesday to block Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube after Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels were deleted, and said it was considering retaliating against German media.

YouTube said on Tuesday that RT’s channels had breached its COVID-19 misinformation policy, a move Russia’s Foreign Ministry described as “unprecedented information aggression.”

Russian state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it had written to Google and demanded the restrictions be lifted. It said Russia could seek to partially or fully restrict access to YouTube if it failed to comply.

Google declined to comment Wednesday.

The Kremlin said it may have to force YouTube to comply with Russian law, saying there could be zero tolerance for breaches.

“Of course there are signs that the laws of the Russian Federation have been broken, broken quite blatantly, because of course this involves censorship and obstructing the spread of information by the media,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The foreign ministry said Russian authorities had been approached with “a proposal to develop and take retaliatory measures against the YouTube hosting service and the German media.”

Christian Mihr, executive director at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany, said the threat of action against German journalists was “completely inappropriate.”

Moscow has increased pressure on foreign tech firms in the past year, fining social media companies for failing to delete content Russia deems illegal and punitively slowing down the speed of Twitter.

That pressure led Google and Apple to remove an anti-government tactical voting app from their stores on the first day of a parliamentary election earlier this month, Kremlin critics said.

Berlin denied an allegation by the Russian foreign ministry that YouTube’s decision had been made with clear and tacit support from the German authorities and local media.

“It is a decision by YouTube, based on rules created by YouTube. It is not a measure [taken by] the German government or other official organizations,” German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters.

В Україні продовжили заборону на імпорт електроенергії з Росії та Білорусі

У НКРЕКП зазначили, що на необхідності продовжити заборону на засіданні Антикризового енергетичного штабу 27 вересня наголосили представники Кабінету міністрів та Міністерства енергетики

Rags to Riches: Boxing Great Pacquiao Announces Retirement

Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao is officially hanging up his gloves.

The eight-division world champion and Philippine senator on Wednesday announced his retirement from the ring.

“I would like to thank the whole world, especially the Filipino people, for supporting Manny Pacquiao. Goodbye boxing,” the 42-year-old said in a video posted on his Facebook page. “It is difficult for me to accept that my time as a boxer is over. Today I am announcing my retirement.”

Pacquiao finished his 26-year, 72-fight career with 62 wins, eight losses and two draws. Of those 62 wins, 39 were by knockout and 23 by decision. He won 12 world titles and is the only fighter in history to win titles in eight different weight classes.

His retirement from boxing followed a disheartening defeat to Yordenis Ugas in Paradise, Nevada, on Aug. 21. The younger Cuban boxer beat Pacquiao by unanimous decision, retaining his WBA welterweight title. It was Pacquiao’s first fight in more than two years.

“Thank you for changing my life. When my family was desperate, you gave us hope, you gave me the chance to fight my way out of poverty,” Pacquiao said in the video. “Because of you, I was able to inspire people all over the world. Because of you I have been given the courage to change more lives.”

Pacquaio had hinted at retirement recently. It had also been expected because he is setting his sights on a bigger political battlefield. Earlier this month, he accepted his political party’s nomination and declared he will run for Philippines president in elections next May.

He has accused the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, his former ally, of making corruption worse in the Philippines. He promised to fight poverty and warned corrupt politicians they will soon end up in jail.

Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches life story and legendary career brought honor to his Southeast Asian nation, where he is known by the monikers Pacman, People’s Champ and National Fist.

He left his impoverished home in the southern Philippines as a teenager and stowed away on a ship bound for Manila. He made his professional boxing debut as a junior flyweight in 1995 at the age of 16, fighting his way out of abject poverty to become one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

Eddie Banaag, a 79-year-old retiree, said Pacquiao was his idol as a boxer and he watched almost all of his fights. But he believes the boxing icon should have retired earlier.

“He should have done that right after his victory over (Keith) Thurman,” Banaag said of Pacquiao’s win over Thurman on July 20, 2019, in Las Vegas, Pacquiao’s second-to-last fight. “It would have been better if he ended his boxing career with a win rather than a loss.”

Still, Pacquiao believes he will always be remembered as a winner. Hundreds of millions of dollars in career earnings and his record in the ring leave no doubt.

“I will never forget what I have done and accomplished in my life,” Pacquiao said Wednesday. “I just heard the final bell. The boxing is over.”

Massive North Sea Wind Farm Could Power Denmark, Neighbors

Weeks before a high-profile climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Danish officials are talking up an ambitious program to develop the world’s largest offshore wind energy complex, with the potential to provide enough green energy to power not just Denmark, but some of its neighbors as well. 

The complex, to sit on and around an artificial North Sea island about 80 km off Denmark’s coast, would span an area up to the size of 64 soccer fields and support thermal storage facilities, HVDC converters, a heliport, and a research and visitor center.

Energy Island Envisioned by Denmark

“You can have hundreds of wind turbines around this island,” said Dan Jorgensen, Denmark’s climate and energy minister, during a visit to Washington this month. His government calculates that the energy island could yield up to 10 gigawatts of electricity — enough for 10 million households. 

“Since we’re only 5.8 million people in Denmark, that’s far more electricity than we’ll need for ourselves, so we want to find other countries to be part of this,” Jorgensen said, adding that Denmark is in talks with other European countries. 

The 10-gigawatt estimate is at the high end of what might finally be built. Current planning allows for a range of from three to 10 gigawatts, according to Jorgensen. But even at the low end, the energy island would dwarf the largest existing offshore wind farm — Britain’s Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea that has a capacity to generate 0.66 gigawatts and provide power to 600,000 homes. 

The world’s largest wind farm of any kind is a 10-gigawatt complex completed this summer and based in the northwestern Gansu province of China. The next largest of any kind is a 1.6-gigawatt wind farm in Jaisalmer, India. 

“It’s the biggest infrastructure investment in the history of my country, but we foresee it will be a good business model,” Jorgensen told VOA. 

“There will be some initial costs there, but we’re willing to bear them because this will also mean that we will get the project itself, but also the development know-how, the skills, and the expertise that we want.” 

The project is remarkable not just for its size but also for its innovative approach to some of the most difficult obstacles to weaning the world off fossil fuels. These include finding an effective way to store energy generated from wind turbines, and a way to transform the electricity into fuels to power transportation systems. 

Denmark’s plan is to transform the electricity into hydrogen, which can be used directly as an energy source or turned into fuels for use “in ships, planes and trucks,” as Jorgensen put it. 

“This sounds a bit like science fiction, but actually it’s just science; we know how to do it,” he said. 

While talks between the Danish government, industry, scientists and potential investors are still in the early stage, one decision has already been made, Jorgensen said. 

“We want at least 50.1% of the island to be publicly owned,” he said, calling the island “critical infrastructure because it’ll be such a huge part of our energy supply.” He added that the actual wind turbines will be owned by investors. 

“So far we have seen interest from Danish companies and investment funds; we’ve also seen interest from the governments of several European countries. We expect, of course, this will also mean interest from companies from other countries, definitely European, but probably also others.” 

Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a Danish economist based in Brussels, says the ambitious plan is plausible in light of Denmark’s track record in developing green energy. 

“There are already many days in which Denmark gets all its electrical power from wind energy, so rapid electrification is coming as are further rapid expansions of offshore wind farms,” he told VOA in an exchange of emails. 

He said he has “no doubt” that Denmark will achieve full decarbonization by 2050, “probably even considerably before” that date, thanks to broad public support, especially from the young. 

According to the Danish embassy in Washington, more than 50% of Denmark’s electrical grid is already powered by wind and solar energy, and the government projects that renewables will meet 100% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2028. 

In Spain, the Push is on for Squatter’s Rights

The pandemic has made Spain’s affordable housing crisis worse and civil organizations are now pressuring the government to pass a housing law that includes making available vacant, foreclosed homes. The push is causing new friction between Spanish political factions and raising concerns among real estate investors. Jonathan Spier narrates this report by Alfonso Beato in Barcelona.

Camera: Alfonso Beato

 

German Election: Olaf Scholz Narrow Favorite to Succeed Angela Merkel

It’s still not clear who will be the next leader of Germany, after Sunday’s election failed to give any party a ruling majority. Talks between rival parties over forming a coalition government are under way. As Henry Ridgwell reports, Olaf Scholz is the narrow favorite to take over from Angela Merkel as chancellor — but the outcome remains uncertain. 

Camera: Henry Ridgwell Produced by: Henry Ridgwell, Marcus Harton 

 

At Least 20 Injured in Swedish Apartment Building Explosion

Police and fire officials in Goteburg, Sweden say an explosion in an apartment building early Tuesday injured at least 20 people, some of them seriously, and investigators have ruled out a natural cause for the blast.

Emergency officials say they were alerted to the blast just before 5 a.m. local time in the Annedal district in central Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Fires spread to several units, and crews from the local fire department were still fighting the fires as of mid-morning.

Residents reported being awakened by the blast that shook the entire building, which takes up most of one city block. Witnesses say smoke filled the hallways and stairways, making it difficult to exit the building. Police and fire crews rescued many people, and others climbed onto balconies. At least one person was said to have jumped from the building.

News reports say at least 16 people were taken to the hospital for treatment. 

Investigators say the cause of the explosion is not known but a police spokesman told reporters a gas pipeline or other “natural” cause has been ruled out.

An official with the Goteburg rescue service told Swedish government broadcaster SVT the explosion appeared to have originated in the building’s inner courtyard, which had its entry gate blown away.

(Some information for this report comes from the Associated Press and Reuters.)

 

Kremlin Critic Navalny Hit With New Probe, Could Face 10 More Years in Prison

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny is facing a new criminal probe by Russian investigators that could lead to 10 more years in prison.

The investigation, launched Tuesday by the Russian government’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, accuses Navalny of creating and directing an “extremist network” the goal of which was “changing the foundations of the constitutional system in the Russian Federation,” according to a statement by the committee.

Investigators also accuse Navalny and his allies of setting up social media accounts to promote Navalny’s banned Anti-Corruption Foundation “in order to promote criminal activity.”

“The illegal activities of the extremist network were aimed at discrediting state authorities and their policies,” investigators said.

The probe comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party won lower house parliamentary elections earlier this month.

Navalny’s allies were banned from running in the elections, and last week, Navalny, in a message from prison, said the election had been stolen.

Navalny, 45, is currently serving a two-and-a-half year sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that was widely seen as politically motivated.   

The sentence was suspended but Navalny was arrested for parole violations in January when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from what he said was a nerve agent attack by the Kremlin. Russian officials deny his allegation.  

In June, Navalny’s foundation was outlawed as “extremist,” and authorities blocked websites run by his network, charging them with distributing propaganda. Two of Navalny’s top allies, Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov, are also facing criminal investigations.  

 

Amid Boycotts and Pandemic, Athletes Train for Uncertain 2022 Winter Olympics

Two-time Paralympic athlete Tyler Carter may be a seasoned contender on the world stage, but the alpine skier says he is not sure what to expect as the clock ticks toward the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing next February. Carter wants to be prepared to race in Beijing but says he hasn’t had a chance to become acquainted with the terrain.

“We didn’t really get a test event,” said the 27-year-old Carter, who has skied since the age of 8, seven years after a foot was amputated due to a missing fibula in his right leg. “Because of COVID, everything was kind of postponed or cancelled, so I don’t really know what it’s going to be like there.” 

Test events are seen as dress rehearsals held in the host country, often a year before the actual Olympic Games, to not only help the athletes but also allow the hosts to test their readiness. 

“It’s kind of a mystery in a way, but that’s fine,” said Carter, now based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We train for all conditions, all different types of hills and racing venues,” said Carter, who took part in the Winter Games in 2014 and 2018. 

As Carter trains for his moment on the slopes, he says he is hoping politics won’t impact his ability to compete.

Beijing is facing calls for a boycott or cancellation of the Games over political issues. 

Pandemic preparations in Beijing 

Foreign pressure on China to cancel the Games, over politics, has not changed pandemic event planning. 

Beijing’s Games show early signs of taking place at a full scale, just minus live spectators. The Chinese government is energizing fans at home and ignoring calls for boycotts, while athletes such as Carter are doing whatever it takes to win medals for themselves and their countries. 

“Individuals will have their own opinions across the spectrum, but from a general perspective, I think athletes who are wanting to compete at the top level and take part in the Olympics are being pragmatic and understand that there are going to be politics, protocol, whatever,” said Mark Thomas, managing director of U.K.-based, China event-focused S2M Consulting firm.

Most athletes, he added, realize “it’s a new world” in terms of how they travel.

Beijing’s Olympic organizing committee did not reply to a request from VOA on pandemic-related measures for the Games, but Chinese media suggested this month, the rules are not yet fixed. Twelve test events and three international training weeks in Beijing from October to December will offer clues, the state-run CGTN news website said.

“As Beijing organizers have not revealed the full extent of the COVID-19 countermeasures yet, those test events could offer a sneak peek at the meticulous precautions they are expected to take against COVID-19,” the September 15 report said.

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng visited the National Ski Jumping Center, a snow park and Olympic villages in early September to learn about epidemic prevention work, the official Xinhua news agency said. “He also stressed sound plans to prevent and control the COVID-19 epidemic,” Xinhua said. China will hold the events at 12 venues in and around Beijing.

Chinese officials have involved 100 million people in domestic campaigns to promote the Games and more than 1.1 million people have signed up as volunteers, CGTN said.

The country squelched its major COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 through some of the world’s strictest lockdowns in the central Chinese city Wuhan, where the outbreak was first reported. It has closed the border to foreign travel.

But observers said Beijing’s Olympics organizers will just adopt Tokyo’s precautions from the recent Summer Olympics. Tokyo barred spectators from most events and required athletes to operate in an Olympic venue-hotel bubble rather than mixing with the public.

The Tokyo Games drew 11,656 athletes to 339 events, roughly equal to the 11,238 athletes and 306 events of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics four years earlier. 

Geopolitical pressure 

Opposition from abroad to the 2022 Games arises from lack of trust in China following political decisions by Beijing over the past two years, said Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.

He points to the reduction of political freedoms in Hong Kong in 2020, growing military pressure against Taiwan and crackdowns against ethnic Uyghurs in China’s far northwest. Many people abroad still believe China should have done more to stop COVID-19 from expanding past its origin in Wuhan.

“The reticence about going to Beijing has to do with the political issues that have come to light over the past several years,” Nagy said. 

The European Parliament passed a resolution July 8 calling on “government representatives and diplomats” to boycott the Beijing Games, citing reasons that include “the rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in Hong Kong and more specifically the open attacks against freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

International observers see the 2020 National Security Law implemented in Hong Kong by China as a crackdown on democratic freedoms in the territory.

China’s state-run People’s Daily said the new laws aim to “protect people’s rights” and make Hong Kong “safer” after months of demonstrations on the streets in protest of an extradition measure that has since been withdrawn. 

Scores of human rights groups have asked for full boycotts, meaning countries would send no athletes, and some want major broadcasters including the American network NBC to cancel plans to cover the Games.

In June and July, some U.S. lawmakers pushed for a diplomatic boycott of the Games, meaning no federal funds would be spent to support Olympics attendance by federal employees. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a research group, found in March that 49% of Americans backed a boycott. 

No teams have announced that they will pull out of the Games — although North Korea was banned this month after the International Olympic Committee suspended it for not showing up in Tokyo. North Korea and its allies skipped the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the most recent full boycott.

As Carter continues to perfect his skiing for the Olympics, he watches closely for the latest political developments to see if a 2022 U.S. boycott will take place. “I hope it doesn’t happen, but it isn’t in my control,” he said. “I’m focused on my training and preparation, and we’ll see what happens.”