German parties reach coalition deal to end Merkel era
German Social Democrat Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday he had reached a deal with the Free Democrats and Greens to form a new coalition government that will bring the curtain down on the Angela Merkel era.
According to 177-page agreement struck after two months of talks, the three parties want to accelerate public investment in green technology and digitalisation while returning to strict debt limits from 2023 onwards, Reuters reported.
The deal will install Germany’s first federal coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD), libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) and the ecologist Greens, and end 16 years of Merkel-led conservative government, marking a new era for relations with Europe and the rest of the world.
“We want to dare to make more progress,” Scholz told a news conference in Berlin, flanked by the FDP and Greens leaders. “We will massively invest in Germany to keep it at the forefront.”
Merkel leaves big shoes to fill. She has navigated Germany and Europe through multiple crises and been a champion of liberal democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism worldwide.
Her critics say she has managed rather than solved problems and leaves her successor tough decisions on many fronts.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats are currently preoccupied with a leadership contest over who will become their next leader and revive the party’s fortunes after it suffered its worst-ever election result.
The alliance – named a traffic light coalition after the three parties’ respective colours – has a majority in the lower house of parliament and hopes the government will be sworn in early next month after the parties ratify the coalition pact.
It faces immediate challenges, with Germany tackling its worst COVID-19 surge yet and Europe grappling with the fallout from Brexit and a crisis on the EU’s border with Belarus.
Russia, Ukraine step up military alert with combat drills
Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, on Wednesday and said it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of heightened NATO activity near its borders.
Ukraine, which with its ally the United States has claimed it believes Russia may be preparing an invasion, staged exercises of its own near the border with Belarus, Reuters reported.
The increase of military activity on both sides follows weeks of rising tension that have raised the risk of war between the two neighbours, even though Western intelligence sources have told Reuters they do not see any invasion as imminent.
The United States and NATO have signalled their backing for Ukraine in ways that Moscow considers provocative, including through warship manoeuvres this month in the Black Sea and a delivery of U.S. patrol boats to the Ukrainian Navy.
Russian fighter planes and ships practiced repelling air attacks on naval bases and responding with airstrikes during military drills on Wednesday in the Black Sea, Interfax reported.
Separately, the news agency quoted Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying the need for Russia to further develop its armed forces was dictated by “the complicated military and political conditions in the world and the growing activity of NATO countries near Russia’s borders”.
He said raising the armed forces’ capabilities, supporting the combat readiness of nuclear forces and strengthening the potential of non-nuclear deterrence were among the priorities.
Shoigu on Tuesday complained that U.S. bombers had rehearsed a nuclear strike on Russia from two different directions earlier this month and complained that the planes had come too close the Russian border, drills the Pentagon said had adhered to international protocols.
Ukraine on Wednesday held what it called a “special operation” at the border with Belarus, including drone exercises and military drills for anti-tank and airborne units.
It has deployed 8,500 extra troops to its border with Belarus, saying it fears being drawn into the migrant crisis, which has seen the European Union accuse Minsk of flying in people from the Middle East and pushing them to enter neighbouring Poland. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence claimed this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.
Moscow has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory, said it was not threatening anyone and defended its right to deploy its troops as it wished.
Sudan PM calls for halt to post-coup sackings
Sudan’s newly reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Wednesday ordered a halt to sackings and a review of all appointments made after his detention in last month’s military coup.
Top General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had grabbed power and detained Hamdok on October 25 but, following international condemnation and mass protests, reinstated the premier last Sunday, according to AFP.
After the coup Burhan had dissolved major institutions and dismissed the heads of state media, public companies and banks as well as many provincial officials.
Ambassadors who had announced their defections were also relieved of their duties.
Hamdok himself was placed under house arrest after the putsch, which sparked a wave of mass street protests that triggered a deadly crackdown by the security forces.
On Wednesday, Hamdok said in a statement that he had ordered “an immediate halt to dismissals and hirings in national and local public institutions until further notice”.
The prime minister, who is still without a cabinet after returning to his post in a controversial deal with Burhan, said “recent hirings and dismissals will be studied and reviewed”.
Twelve out of 17 ministers from Sudan’s bloc calling for a purely civilian government resigned on Monday, rejecting Hamdok’s strategy of engaging with the military.
Despite the agreement that led to the release of a handful of politicians, dozens of others remain in detention.
Protest organisers have accused Hamdok of “treason” and have vowed to maintain pressure on the military-civilian authority overseeing Sudan’s transition.
Activists have taken to social media to call for “Martyrs’ Day” demonstrations on Thursday in honour of the 41 protesters killed in the post-coup crackdown.
On November 11, Burhan formed a new Sovereign Council in which he and other military figures stayed on but members of the main civilian bloc were replaced.
Prior to the coup, the council had been charged with overseeing Sudan’s transition to civilian rule after the ouster of long-time autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Saudi-led airstrikes leave two civilians dead in Yemen
Saudi-led military aircraft carried out a fresh wave of airstrikes against various areas across conflict-plagued Yemen, killing at least two civilians, local media reports said.
Fighter jets of the Riyadh-led coalition struck a medical facility under construction in the Al-Ma’yanah district of the capital province of Sana’a on Wednesday morning, leaving two citizens dead and injured as many, the Arabic-language Al-Masirah television network reported.
Saudi-led warplanes also targeted an area near a plastic factory in the Al-Thawra district of the province, but there were no immediate reports about possible casualties and the extent of damage caused, Press TV reported.
The development came hours after Saudi-led fighter jets conducted more than a dozen aerial assaults against Al-Jubah and Sirwah districts in Yemen’s central province of Marib, but no reports about possible casualties were quickly available.
On Tuesday evening, seven civilians, including an African refugee, suffered grave injuries when Saudi border guards indiscriminately fired shots at popular outdoor markets and residential buildings in Raqou area of the Monabbih district in the northwestern Yemeni province of Sa’ada.
Saudi Arabia, backed by the US and other key Western powers, launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing former government back to power and crushing the popular Ansarullah resistance movement.
Andersson elected as Sweden’s first woman PM
Sweden’s parliament on Wednesday elected Social Democratic party leader and current Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson as the country’s first woman prime minister, after she clinched a last-minute deal securing key support.
Andersson will succeed outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Lofven after a total of 117 members of parliament voted for her, while 57 abstained, 174 voted against and one was absent, according to AFP.
Under Sweden’s system, a prime ministerial candidate does not need the support of a majority in parliament, they just need to not have a majority – or 175 votes – against them.
The 54-year-old, who took over as leader of the Social Democrats earlier this month, reached a deal with the Left Party late on Tuesday to raise pensions in exchange for its backing in Wednesday’s vote.
She had previously received the support of the Social Democrats’ coalition partner the Greens, as well as the Centre Party.
However, Andersson faced her first setback even before her election on Wednesday.
The Centre Party announced that while it would not oppose Andersson in the vote for prime minister, it would withdraw its support for the government’s budget to be voted on later Wednesday, due to the concessions made to the Left.
That means Andersson will in all likelihood have to govern with a budget presented by the opposition conservative Moderates, Christian Democrats and far-right Sweden Democrats.
Andersson will formally take over her functions and present her government on Friday.
Lofven resigned on November 10 after seven years as prime minister in a widely expected move aimed at giving his successor time to prepare for the country’s September 2022 general election.
Despite being a nation that has long championed gender equality, Sweden has never had a woman as prime minister.
France strengthens ties with Indonesia after AUKUS setback
France and Indonesia strengthened a strategic partnership agreement on Wednesday that includes bolstering defence ties as Paris regroups in the Indo-Pacific after the collapse of a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia.
Paris was furious after Australia ditched the submarine deal in September, saying it had been given no warning that Canberra was negotiating a new defence pact with the US and Britain, which left France rethinking its alliances in the Indo-Pacific, AFP reported.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi in Jakarta to sign an action plan that he said will strengthen the two “countries’ strategic partnership” and improve ties “in defence and maritime affairs”.
During the two-day visit, Le Drian also met with Indonesia’s Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, who leads Jakarta’s ongoing negotiations for the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets, but no deal was announced.
The EU health agency appealed to member states to “urgently” introduce measures to counter surging COVID-19 cases, a day after the WHO Europe warned that 700,000 more may die this winter, AFP reported.