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Merkel changes tune on German refugee cap

Merkel made the announcement Monday in a joint news conference with Horst Seehofer, leader of the Ch..

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Merkel made the announcement Monday in a joint news conference with Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union — the more conservative sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union — after discussions in which the two parties sought compromises on a number of issues following poor results in the federal elections two weeks ago.The parties have agreed to try and limit the number of refugees arriving in Germany each year to 200,000 — a policy that Seehofer has repeatedly demanded and Merkel had consistently rejected."On the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear," Merkel said in July. "I won't accept one."Nearly three months later, that position has changed. "I'm pleased about the compromise we've found," she said Monday, describing the deal as a "very, very good basis" for the two parties to enter coalition talks next week.

2015 'cannot be repeated'

The new policy is not described as an upper limit ("Obergrenze") and comes with several caveats, but still marks a concession by Merkel to the more conservative forces in her sister party."We will continue our efforts to reduce, sustainably and permanently, the number of people who flee to Germany and Europe, so that a situation like that of 2015 will not and cannot be repeated," reads a joint CSU/CDU position paper published Monday. "We guarantee that."More than a million refugees entered the country in 2015 as a result of Merkel's so-called open-door migration policy, sparking a heated national debate about immigration and integration.Seehofer has strongly criticized Merkel for allowing over a million refugees into Germany in 2015.The 200,000 figure refers to controlled admissions, such as refugees resettled as part of EU programs or under the deal struck between the bloc and Turkey in 2016.Reducing the number of asylum seekers who arrive outside the framework of these programs can be achieved by fighting traffickers, protecting the EU's borders and striking deals with countries of origin and transit, according to the document. Merkel and Seehofer made clear Monday that the figure itself is flexible — the Bundestag can decide to raise or lower it in extreme circumstances — and the fundamental right to seek asylum is guaranteed: People will not be turned away at the borders after the limit is reached.

'Regressive' policies

We can say goodbye to a stable GermanyBut Karl Kopp, director for European affairs at Pro Asyl, a German charity that advocates for refugees, told CNN that any kind of limit is "not compatible with international law" and "totally unacceptable."He's also concerned that a further proposal to house all asylum seekers in "decision and repatriation centers" while their claims are assessed will be detrimental for the integration process and encourage hostility toward refugees. Kopp sees these "regressive" announcements as a direct response to the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in last month's election. The party, which campaigned on an anti-Islam, anti-immigration platform, won 12.6% of the vote and is now the third largest party in Parliament. Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland, co-lead candidates of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) celebrate after the announcement of the initial results of the federal election on September 24Across Europe, far-right parties have "hijacked the agenda," Kopp said. Discussions about migration in Germany are now "inspired by the right wing and the AfD. It's a poisoned debate."On the night of the election, Merkel described the AfD's success as a "big new challenge" and said she wanted to "win back AfD voters." This new position may be an attempt to do just that. Although Merkel's party won the biggest share of the vote in the country's federal elections two weeks ago — propelling her to a fourth term in office — support for her party fell by 8.6 percentage points, with many voters turning to the AfD instead.It is unclear whether this move will encourage those voters to shift their allegiance back to the CDU, but it is likely to cause problems for Merkel during coalition discussions. The Green party is committed to fighting any kind of limit on refugee numbers and reiterated that position Sunday night.In a post on Twitter, Simone Peter, co-leader of the party, insisted there was no difference between this agreement and Seehofer's earlier demands for an "Obergrenze.""And where is the difference with an upper limit?" Peter wrote. "Number is totally arbitrary, determined purely ideologically. For us it's the basic right to asylum that matters!"

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Europe

Ukraine crisis: Why Russia-US talks may prove crucial

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Senior diplomats from the US and Russia are meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva for the first of a series of crunch talks aimed at defusing tension over Ukraine.

The stakes for these talks on Monday are high. But both sides hold wildly different expectations. The US and other Western powers want to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.

But Russia wants to talk about its maximalist demands for Nato to retreat from eastern Europe. It’s calling for Nato to pull its forces out of former Soviet countries, end any eastern expansion and rule out Ukraine joining the alliance.

Some US officials fear these demands are deliberately unrealistic, designed to be rejected and used as a pretext for military action. Other diplomats believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is aiming high to squeeze concessions out of a Western alliance that is willing to give ground to avoid war.

They say the Russian president is effectively demanding an end to Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture and the establishment of a Russian “sphere of influence”.

A high price

Given this, the US and Nato have dismissed most of Russia’s demands as “non-starters”. And the US has categorically denied reports it is considering possible troop reductions.

But American officials have said they are willing to look at curbs on military exercises and missile deployments.

One idea is a partial revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that the US abandoned in 2019 after Russia was accused of breaching its provisions. Other ideas are more measures to build confidence and greater transparency between Russia and the US.

The fear among some European allies is that even this would be too much of a reward for Russia, too high a price for trying to avoid conflict in Ukraine.

They fear the US might be willing to concede too much so it can focus more on China and domestic challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy.

The US is aware of these fears and repeatedly insists it will not agree anything about Ukraine or European security without those countries involved.

Either way, President Putin has already made some gains, winning a platform this week to air his grievances and force the US and Europe to engage with his agenda of Nato reform.

Both sides are playing down expectations of an immediate deal. But that does not mean this week’s talks are not important.

A crucial staging post

At best, the talks could shed more light on Mr Putin’s intentions and reveal if he is serious about engaging in diplomacy.

At worst, a breakdown could lead to war, allowing Mr Putin to claim to his domestic audience that the West was not willing to talk and agree to his demands, and he was thus forced to act to ensure Russia’s security.

Western diplomats say they are ready for what they see as this false narrative: hence the Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, insisting the alliance is ready for any Russian military action, and the firm warnings from the US and Europe that any invasion would be met with massive economic sanctions.

So, this week’s talks could prove a crucial diplomatic staging post, with the fate of Ukraine and Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture in the balance.

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Europe

Russia fines Google over illegal content breach

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bbc– A Moscow court has fined Google 7.2bn roubles ($98m; £73m) for repeated failure to delete content deemed illegal in Russia.

Details of the offending content were not specified in the announcement by the court’s press service.

This is the first time in Russia that a technology giant has been hit with a fine based on their annual turnover.

Google told AFP news agency that it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.

Russian authorities have increased pressure on tech firms this year, accusing them of not moderating their content properly, and interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Hours after the Google verdict was announced, a 2bn rouble fine was handed to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for similar content-related offences.

Earlier this week, Twitter was also handed a 3m rouble fine for similar charges.

This is not Google’s first brush with Russian authorities over content laws. In May, Russia’s media watchdog threatened to slow down the speed of Google if it failed to delete 26,000 instances of unlawful content, which it said related to drugs, violence and extremism.

President Vladimir Putin has pushed for development of a so-called sovereign internet, which would give the government more control over what its citizens can access.

Critics have accused Russia of using the campaign to clamp down on free speech and online dissent.

The country’s media regulator has blocked dozens of websites linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose campaign groups have been labelled “extremist”.

Google and Apple were also forced to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign, which gave users advice on tactical voting to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

Websites like LinkedIn and Dailymotion have already been blocked for refusing to co-operate with authorities, and six major providers of Virtual Personal Networks (VPNs) – which help users to conceal their online activities – have been banned.

Earlier this year, Russia also introduced a new law requiring all new smartphones, computers and smart devices sold in the country to be pre-installed with Russian-made software and apps.

The government said the move would help Russian tech firms compete with foreign rivals.

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Japanese billionaire returns to Earth from space trip

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dw- Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa returned to Earth on Monday after spending 12 days on board the International Space Station, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said.

Maezawa is a fashion tycoon who sold his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank in 2019. Forbes estimates his worth as $1.9 (€1.69) billion.

What was the trip like?

Maezawa parachuted onto Kazakhstan’s steppe at around the planned time of 0313 GMT, along with his assistant and film producer Yozo Hirano, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

The landing site was located 150 kilometers southeast of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan, where there was precipitation and sub-zero temperatures.

Maezawa made the trip in a Russian ‘Soyuz’ spacecraft and became the first space tourist to travel to the International Space Station in more than a decade.

The entrepreneur made a variety of posts on social media from his trip, including photos from space of his home prefecture of Chiba, and videos showing how to make tea in zero gravity and discussing his shortage of fresh underwear.

What did Maezawa say about the trip?

In a live interview from the orbiting space station, Maezawa said that “once you are in space, you realize how much it is worth it by having this amazing experience.”

When asked about claims that he had paid more than $80 million (€71 million) for the trip, Maezawa said he couldn’t disclose the exact sum but admitted that he paid “pretty much” that much.

Maezawa is currently searching for eight people to join him on a trip to the moon in 2023. Applicants are required to pass medical tests and an interview.

 

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