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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Germany's anti-migrant populists beat Merkel's party in local vote
By Andreas PROST with Hui Min NEO in Berlin
Schwerin, Germany (AFP) Sept 4, 2016


Merkel vows to 'win back trust' after poll loss blamed on migrant crisis
Hangzhou, China (AFP) Sept 5, 2016 - German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Monday to "win back trust" of voters over the handling of the migrant crisis after her party lost against the right-wing populist AfD in state elections.

"Everyone now needs to think about how we can win back trust -- most of all, of course, myself," Merkel said, speaking on the sidelines of a G20 summit in China a day after the election in her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

She stressed that "I am deeply dissatisfied with the outcome of the election," conceding that it had been dominated by the influx of one million asylum seekers last year and the question of how to integrate them in society.

She said that, as chancellor and party chief, "of course I am also responsible" but insisted that opening Germany's borders to a mass influx of refugees and migrants a year ago was fundamentally the right decision.

"We now have a rapidly falling number of arriving refugees," she said, as Europe's top economy expects a total of 300,000 arrivals this year.

"I consider the fundamental decisions as right, but there is much to be done to win back trust, and the topic of integration will play a huge role, as well the repatriation of those who don't gain residency rights."

G20 agrees refugees a global issue: statement
Hangzhou, China (AFP) Sept 5, 2016 - The G20 group agreed at their summit in China that refugees are a global issue and the burden must be shared, the leaders declared in a joint communique Monday.

"Worldwide massive forced displacement of people, unprecedented since the Second World War, especially those generated from violent conflicts, is a global concern," they said at the end of their two-day gathering in the scenic eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

The Group of 20 -- which together account for 85 percent of the world economy and two-thirds of its population -- reiterated their call from last year's summit in Turkey for "global concerted efforts in addressing the effects, protection need and root causes of refugee crisis to share in the burden associated with it".

The group called for strengthening humanitarian assistance for refugees and invited all states "according to their individual capacity" to ramp up aid to international organisations assisting affected countries.

A steady stream of refugees has flowed into Europe over the last year, largely fleeing the civil war in Syria.

EU President Donald Tusk said on the first day of G20 Europe was "close to limits" on its ability to accept new waves of refugees and urged the broader international community to shoulder its share of the burden.

The issue has become a political flashpoint for leaders in the region as a series of Islamist terror attacks and rising anti-globalisation sentiment have combined to create an increasingly inhospitable environment for refugees from the brutal conflict.

The group's communique called for increasing efforts to "find durable solutions", particularly for "protracted refugee situations".

Earlier a senior EU diplomat told AFP that G20 was making a strong stand, and had overcome initial reluctance from Argentina and Brazil on including the issue in the communique, but noted it was not a binding commitment.

"There is a difference between commitment and enforcement... at least, it's here," he said.

"Of course we have to take into account the fact that it is a sovereignty issue... it is not an obligation, but the burden-sharing is there."

Germany's anti-migrant populists made a strong showing at Sunday's state polls, scoring ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party as voters punished the German leader over her liberal refugee policy.

The xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) clinched around 21 percent in its first bid for seats in the regional parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Vorpommern, results showed after most ballots were counted.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union garnered just 19 perecent percent in its worst ever score in the north-eastern state, while the Social Democrats maintained top place with around 30 percent.

AfD's lead candidate Leif-Erik Holm called it a "proud result for a young party" as the populists secured seats on the opposition benches of the ninth out of 16 regional parliaments with Sunday's showing.

"The icing on the cake is that we have left Merkel's CDU behind us... maybe that is the beginning of the end of Merkel's time as chancellor," he said.

Although the former Communist state is Germany's poorest and least populous, it carries a symbolic meaning as it is home to Merkel's constituency Stralsund.

Together with Berlin's elections in two weeks, Sunday's polls are also a key test ahead of general elections next year, when Merkel's decision exactly a year ago to let in tens of thousands of Syrian and other migrants is expected to be a key point of contention.

Although she won praise at first, the optimism has given way to fears over how Europe's biggest economy will manage to integrate the million people who arrived last year alone.

Merkel's decision has left her increasingly isolated in Europe, and exposed her to heavy criticism at home, including from her own conservative allies.

The CDU's general secretary Peter Tauber said Sunday's results were "bitter", acknowledging that voters "wanted to send a signal of protest, as we had noticed in discussions about refugees".

- 'No money for us' -

In the sprawling farming and coastal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where economic regeneration and jobs used to top residents' concerns, the issue of refugees and integration has become the deciding factor for one in two voters.

"There was only one issue, that is, and was, refugee policy," said the CDU's main candidate Lorenz Caffier.

A pensioner and former teacher who declined to be named said he picked AfD because of the "question over asylum-seekers".

"A million refugees have come here. There is money for them, but no money to bring pensions in the east to the same levels as those of the west," he said, referring to the lower retirement payments that residents of former Communist states receive compared to those in the west.

Compared to other parts of Germany, the northeastern state hosts just a small proportion of migrants under a quota system based on states' income and population -- having taken in 25,000 asylum seekers last year.

Most of them have already decided to abandon the state, preferring to head "where there are jobs, people and shops," said Frieder Weinhold, CDU candidate.

But the "migration policy has sparked a feeling of insecurity among the people," he said.

After a series of attacks by asylum-seekers in July -- including two claimed by the Islamic State organisation -- the mood has also darkened.

- 'More security' -

The AfD, which was founded in 2013, has continued its meteoric rise even though leading members of the party have sparked outrage over insulting remarks, including one disparaging footballer Jerome Boateng, of mixed German and Ghanaian descent, as the neighbour no German wants.

Its latest achievement was hailed by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who wrote on Twitter: "What was impossible yesterday has become possible: the AfD patriots have swept away Merkel's party!"

Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel said Germany's main "political parties must ask themselves how we can stop people from choosing the AfD".

"The key is that we must bring about more security, not just domestic security or protection from crime and terrorism, but also social security," he said, after the results.

Ahead of Sunday's vote, Merkel had urged the population to reject the populists.

"The more the people who go to vote, the less the percentage won by some parties that, in my view, have no solution for problems and which are built mainly around a protest -- often with hate," she said.

The chancellor, who is attending the G20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, did not vote in the polls as her main residence is in Berlin.


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