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German Social Democrats beat conservatives in vote to decide Merkel successor

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2021)

Germany’s Social Democrats narrowly won Sunday’s national election, projected results showed, and claimed a “clear mandate” to lead a government for the first time since 2005 and to end 16 years of conservative-led rule under Angela Merkel.

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) were on track for 26.0% of the vote, ahead of 24.5% for Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc, projections for broadcaster ZDF showed, but both groups believed they could lead the next government.

With neither major bloc commanding a majority, and both reluctant to repeat their awkward “grand coalition” of the past four years, the most likely outcome is a three-way alliance led by either the Social Democrats or Merkel’s conservatives.

Agreeing a new coalition could take months, and will likely involve the smaller Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

“We are ahead in all the surveys now,” the Social Democrats’ chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, said in a round table discussion with other candidates after the vote.

“It is an encouraging message and a clear mandate to make sure that we get a good, pragmatic government for Germany,” he added after earlier addressing jubilant SPD supporters.

The SPD’s rise heralds a swing left for Germany and marks a remarkable comeback for the party, which has recovered some 10 points in support in just three months to improve on its 20.5% result in the 2017 national election.

Scholz, 63, would become the fourth post-war SPD chancellor after Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder. Finance minister in Merkel’s cabinet, he is a former mayor of Hamburg.

Scholz’s conservative rival Armin Laschet, signalled his bloc was not ready yet to concede, though his supporters were subdued.

“It hasn’t always been the first-placed party that provided the chancellor,” Laschet, 60, told the round table. “I want a government where every partner is involved, where everyone is visible – not one where only the chancellor gets to shine,” he said in an early attempt to woo smaller parties.

Schmidt ruled in the late 1970s and early 1980s in coalition with the FDP even though his Social Democrats had fewer parliamentary seats than the conservative bloc.

Attention will now shift to informal discussions followed by more formal coalition negotiations, which could take months, leaving Merkel in charge in a caretaker role.

Scholz and Laschet both said they would aim to strike a coalition deal before Christmas.

Merkel plans to step down after the election, making the vote an era-changing event to set the future course of Europe’s largest economy.

She has stood large on the European stage almost since taking office in 2005 – when George W. Bush was U.S. president, Jacques Chirac in the Elysee Palace in Paris and Tony Blair British prime minister.

After a domestic-focused election campaign, Berlin’s allies in Europe and beyond may have to wait for months before they can see whether the new German government is ready to engage on foreign issues to the extent they would like.

A row between Washington and Paris over a deal for Australia to buy U.S. instead of French submarines has put Germany in an awkward spot between allies, but also gives Berlin the chance to help heal relations and rethink their common stance on China.

On hearing that the SPD were slightly ahead in polls, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters in Washington: “I’ll be darned… They’re solid.”

On economic policy, French President Emmanuel Macron is eager to forge a common European fiscal policy, which the Greens support but the CDU/CSU and FDP reject. The Greens also want “a massive expansion offensive for renewables”.

“Germany will end up with a rather weak chancellor who will struggle to get behind any kind of ambitious fiscal reform at the EU level,” said Naz Masraff at political risk consultancy Eurasia.

Whatever coalition ends up in power, Germany’s friends can at least take heart that moderate centrism has prevailed, and the populism that has taken hold in other European countries failed to break through.

The projected results for ZDF showed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on track for 10.5%, worse than four years ago when they stormed into the national parliament with 12.6% of the vote, and with all mainstream groupings ruling out a coalition with the party.

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Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others: Erdogan

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(Last Updated On: October 24, 2021)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had told his foreign ministry to expel the ambassadors of the United States and nine other Western countries for demanding the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey’s NATO allies and the expulsions, if carried out, would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power, Reuters reported.

Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has remained in detention while his latest trial continues, and denies the charges.

In a joint statement on Monday, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”.

They were summoned by the foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.

“I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata (undesirable) at once. You will sort it out immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech in the northwestern city of Eskisehir.

The US and French embassies and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Reuters reported.
A US State Department spokesperson said it was aware of the reports and was seeking clarity from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Biden says United States would come to Taiwan’s defense

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(Last Updated On: October 22, 2021)

The United States would come to Taiwan’s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

A White House spokesperson said Biden at his town hall was not announcing any change in U.S. policy and “there is no change in our policy”, but declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.

Taiwan’s presidential office, responding to Biden’s remarks, said their position remains the same, which is it will neither give in to pressure nor “rashly advance” when it gets support.

Taiwan will show a firm determination to defend itself, presidential office spokesperson Xavier Chang said in a statement, noting also the Biden administration’s continued concrete actions to show its “rock-solid” support for Taiwan.

Biden said people should not worry about Washington’s military strength because “China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we’re the most powerful military in the history of the world.”

“I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views,” he said.

Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025, Reuters reported.

Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.

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N.Korea fires ballistic missile off its east coast, S.Korea military says

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2021)

North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, officials in South Korea and Japan said, as Seoul opens a major arms fair, spy chiefs meet to discuss the nuclear standoff, and South Korea prepares for a space launch, Reuters reported.

The North Korean launch would be the latest weapons test by the country, which has pressed ahead with military development in the face of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

According to the report one ballistic missile was launched about 10:17 a.m. local time from the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). North Korea has also launched other types of missiles from that area.

“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches,” JCS said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that two ballistic missiles had been detected, and that it was “regrettable” that North Korea had conducted a string of missile tests in recent weeks, read the report.

The launch came as the intelligence chiefs of the United States, South Korea, and Japan were due to meet in Seoul to discuss the standoff with North Korea, amid other issues, Yonhap news agency reported, citing a government source.

Representatives of hundreds of international companies and international militaries were gathered in Seoul for the opening ceremonies of the International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX), Reuters reported.

It is set to be South Korea’s largest defence expo ever, with displays of next-generation fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, drones, and other advanced weapons, as well as space rockets and civilian aerospace designs.

According to Reuters South Korea is preparing to test fire its first homegrown space launch vehicle on Thursday.

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