Merkel coalition agrees welfare changes as poll looms

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition reached agreement on Monday on contentious social welfare issues that it hopes will bolster its support in the countdown to federal elections next September, according to Reuters.

 After nearly eight hours of talks that underlined the degree of discord simmering within her three-party government, Merkel and other leaders agreed to scrap an unpopular health surcharge and to introduce extra child benefits, coalition leaders said.

 Merkel's junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), are particularly eager to impress voters after opinion polls have regularly shown them failing to clear the five percent threshold for staying in parliament next year.

 The FDP has long had to accept that tax cuts, one of the party's traditional policy cornerstones, are not possible at a time of fiscal austerity, with Merkel leading the euro zone's efforts to overcome its three-year-old sovereign debt crisis.

 Instead, the FDP has pushed hard for abolition of the 10-euro-per-quarter payments for visits to the doctor, saying they have spawned red tape without reducing waiting times.

 Merkel's FDP health minister, Daniel Bahr, rejected the center-left opposition's charges that the deal amounted to an attempt to bribe voters ahead of a state election in Lower Saxony in January and federal elections in September.

 "This is about helping our citizens. It's not about whether opinion polls are better are worse from week to week but making the right decision for Germany," Bahr told German radio.

The coalition, plagued by squabbles since taking power in 2009, aims to balance Germany's budget by 2014, helped by robust economic growth that has bucked the euro zone trend, although strong tax revenues are expected to tail off next year.

 Merkel's conservatives remain the most popular force in German politics with 38 percent support, an opinion poll published showed on Sunday, well ahead of the SPD's 29 percent.

But the poll, published in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, confirmed the FDP, on just 4 percent, would fail to win seats in the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament. The SPD's favored coalition partner, the Greens, were on 13 percent.

 Such electoral arithmetic suggests Merkel might have to build a 'grand coalition' with the center-left SPD after the 2013 election, like the one she led from 2005 until 2009.

Greece makes austerity push, workers gear for strike

 Greece's government will present a new austerity package to parliament on Monday, facing a week of strikes and protests over proposals which must win deputies' approval if the country is to secure more aid and stave off bankruptcy, according to Reuters.

Parliament is expected to vote on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' package of 13.5 billion Euros ($17 billion) in cost cuts and tax hikes on Wednesday along with measures making it easier for firms to hire and fire workers.

 Despite public exasperation at four years of belt-tightening that has helped wipe out a fifth of the economy and leave a quarter of Greeks jobless, the package and a tough budget slated for a vote on Sunday are expected to scrape through parliament.

 Greece's powerful main public and private sector unions will launch a 48 hour strike against the legislation on Tuesday and plan marches in Athens' city centre. Journalists, doctors, transport workers and shopkeepers are also planning stoppages.

 Approval of the reforms and the passage of the 2013 budget are crucial to unlocking 31.5 billion euros in aid from an International Monetary Fund and European Union bailout that has been on hold since May.

 "These will be the last cuts in wages and pensions," Samaras said on Sunday in a speech aimed at galvanizing the members of his New Democracy party.

 "We promised to avert the country's exit from the euro and this is what we are doing. We have given absolute priority to this because if we do not achieve this everything else will be meaningless."

 Union leaders say the measures will simply deepen a recession that is expected to run into next year.

 "Our labor action next week will be part of efforts to avert policies that will sink the country deeper into recession and destroy the fabric of society," Yannis Panagopoulos, head of GSEE private sector umbrella union, told Reuters.

  The protests will ratchet up pressure on coalition deputies whose parties have slid in opinion polls since a June election in the Mediterranean country of 10 million.

 On Friday, a poll showed New Democracy's support had fallen to 22 percent, from 30 percent in the election. Its Socialist PASOK partners had fallen to 7 percent, down from 12.3 percent according to the PULSE survey.

"I want this government out. They should go to hell," said Vassiliki Trimopoulou, a 60-year-old woman who has just retired under a state redundancy plan. "This is certainly not the last package. But I hope this will be the last thing they decide on."

 The smallest coalition member, the Democratic Left, has pledged to oppose the plans to cut wages, reduce severance payments and scrap automatic wage hikes, saying they will devastate workers who have borne the brunt of the crisis.

 PASOK is struggling to shore up support for the measures after one of its deputies quit on Thursday in the wake of a narrow victory in pushing through a privatization bill also demanded by the lenders, cutting PASOK's numbers to 32 MPs.

 Five of those have said they may oppose the reforms. But even without them, New Democracy and PASOK's remaining members are expected to muster at least 154 of Parliament's 300 votes.

 "We will not step back now that we are in the final phase," PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos told journalists on Sunday.

 The "troika" of the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank has agreed to extend a deadline for Greece to achieve a primary budget surplus of 4.5 percent, a measure of public finances minus debt maintenance costs.

 That should give the battered economy breathing room, but on Wednesday, the government said it would shrink more than forecast in 2013 and debt would peak at 192 percent of GDP in 2014, 10 percentage points higher than earlier forecast.

 That has increased the prospect of another round of debt restructuring, a source of conflict between the IMF and Greece's biggest EU creditor Germany who both privately say Athens' debt trajectory is unsustainable.

Bishop Tawadros new pope of Egypt's Coptic Christians

Bishop Tawadros has been chosen as the new pope of Egypt's Coptic

His name was selected from a glass bowl by a blindfolded boy at a ceremony in Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral. Three candidates had been shortlisted.

 The 60-year-old succeeds Pope Shenouda III, who died in March aged 88.

The other two candidates were Bishop Raphael and Father Raphael Ava Mina. They were chosen in a ballot by a council of some 2,400 Church and community officials in October.

 Their names were written on pieces of paper and put in crystal balls sealed with wax on the church altar.

 A blindfolded boy - one of 12 shortlisted children - then drew out the name of Bishop Tawadros, who until now was an aide to the acting leader, Bishop Pachomius.

Bishop Pachomius then took the ballot from the boy's hand and showed it to all those gathered in the cathedral.

 Many leading Copts believe the new pope should play a less overtly political role. Activists hope that ordinary Copts can make their voices heard by winning more seats in the now democratically elected parliament.

 Strict measures were in place to make sure there was no foul play during the televised ceremony: the three pieces of paper with candidates' names were all the same size and tied the same way.

 Bishop Tawadros will be enthroned in a ceremony on 18 November.

 The new pope has studied in Britain, and has also run a medicine factory, according to BBC.

Cold Hits Storm Victims Ahead of Election

Victims of super storm Sandy on the East Coast struggled against the cold on Sunday amid fuel shortages and power outages, two days ahead of an election that polls suggest is a dead heat between President Barack Obama and his Republican rival.

Fuel supplies were rumbling toward disaster zones and a million customers regained electricity as n ear-freezing temperatures descended on the U.S. Northeast overnight. But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned the city that it would be days before power was fully restored and fuel shortages ended.

Obama, neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Mitt Romney, ordered emergency response officials to cut through government "red tape" and work without delay to help ravaged areas return to normal as quickly as possible, according to Reuters.

The power restorations relit the skyline in Lower Manhattan for the first time in nearly a week and allowed 80 percent of the New York City subway service to resume. But some 2.5 million homes and business still lacked power across the Northeast, down from 3.5 million on Friday.

Officials across the storm-ravaged U.S. Northeast are increasingly worried about getting voters displaced by Sandy to polling stations for Tuesday's election. Scores of voting centers were rendered useless by the record surge of seawater in New York and New Jersey.

New Jersey is allowing voters displaced by super storm Sandy to vote by email, while some voters in New York could be casting their ballots in tents in an 11th-hour scramble to ensure voting in Tuesday's elections.

The post-storm chaos in the region has overshadowed the final days of campaigning, making voting an afterthought for many New Jersey authorities took the uncommon step of declaring that any voter displaced from their home by super storm Sandy would be designated an overseas voter.

The storm's death toll rose to at least 110 with nine more deaths reported in New Jersey on Saturday, raising the total in that state to 22. Bloomberg put New York City deaths at 41, according to Reuters.

Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before turning north and hammering the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on Monday with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds and a record surge of seawater that swallowed Oceanside communities in New Jersey and New York, and flooded streets and subway tunnels in New York City.

 New York City's overstretched police got a break with the cancellation of Sunday's marathon, a popular annual race that became a lightning rod for critics who said it would divert resources.

Hundreds of runners in New York City are refusing to let the canceled marathon spoil their Sunday plans and are channeling months of preparation into a series of informal runs intended to benefit victims of super storm Sandy.

 Police said that New York City crime dropped by a third in the days after super storm Sandy, but there was a slight increase in burglaries after at least 15 people were charged with looting empty businesses and homes blacked out since the disaster.

Demonstrations in Turkey against Erdogan

 

 

 

Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters in the southeast yesterday as they (protestors) demand  the release of an imprisoned Kurdish leader ,according to AFP.

Police, meanwhile, fired tear gas and water cannon to drive back several groups of Kurdish demonstrators throwing firebombs and stones during a protest in southeastern Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir in support of the hunger strikers.

The clashes were sparked by local authorities’ refusal to allow the pro-Kurdish Democracy and Peace Party (BDP) to stage a demonstration in a show of support for the strikers.

At least 20 protesters were detained during the clashes, said a reporter at the scene. In Ankara, a group of protesters made up of relatives of Kurdish prisoners walked to the prime minister’s office calling for a negotiated solution to the problem, reported the private NTV television. 

Several dozen Kurdish detainees began the hunger strike on September 12, the anniversary of a military coup in 1980, with a host of demands including the release of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and an end to Kurdish language restrictions.

Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents in Nairobi, brought back to Turkey and sentenced to death in 1999.

His death penalty was lifted as part of Turkey’s campaign to join the European Union and commuted to life in prison. Since then, he has been serving a life sentence in a remote island prison.

The Turkish government is under increasing pressure over how to tackle the hunger strike by around 700 detainees at more than 50 prisons across the country.

 

 

 

Russian Communists Voice Support for Syria

 

 

 

MOSCOW, (ST) _" NATO countries have established training camps and centers, especially in Turkey to provide training for the so called "fighters for democracy", whose acts reveal that they are, but,   part of the "neo-fascists" fighting against the Syrian people", according to a statement issued by members of Moscow organization for the Communist Party. 

 The statement deplored the assassination of several Syrian journalists and the action taken by Arab and western sides in blocking the Syrian media, especially the Syrian Satellite Channel, considering this act as a   violation of the freedom of expression and basic human rights.

 The statement added that the attack on Syria aims to topple its national regime, which has been, for decades,   challenging colonialist and Zionist schemes, denouncing the bias of the Arab league to the positions taken by NATO and the Arab Gulf Kingdoms and Sheikhdoms for fueling the war against Syria.

 The statement  voiced Russian Communists firm support  to the  Syrian people, leadership and army in their  struggle  for freedom , independence, and  territorial integrity.

  The statement also voiced Russian Communists support and solidarity with Syria under the leadership of President Bashar Al-Assad, calling  the US, NATO, Turkey and the Arab League to stop the war against Syria and halt  their crimes committed on the Syrian soils.

 

T. Fateh

 

 

 

 

DPRK official: Syria will be victorious, thanks to her people and army solidarity

 Pyongyang , (ST)_ " Thanks to the solidarity maintained between the army and the people, under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad, Syria will emerge victorious from the  current crisis," said head of the permanent committee of  the Supreme people 's congress of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea  (DPRK) Kim Yoon Nam on Friday.
Remarks of the DPRK came during a meeting with the Syrian delegation to the meetings of the Syrian-Korean Joint Committee for Economic Cooperation and scientific and technical  cooperation  led by Minister of Culture, Dr. Lubana Mshaweh, during which the two sides stressed the deep strategic relations between the two countries and peoples and the joint  desire to strengthen them.
The  Syrian minister discussed with her DPRK counterpart historical relations between the two countries, especially in the area of exchanging experts, and cinema shows , music and  artistic performances

The two sides emphasized continued  bilateral coordination  at  international arenas and  expressed confidence that the  peoples of Syria and DPRK  will achieve victory against  the conspiracy hatched against their  two countries.

 T. Fateh

 

 

Chinese experts: China's stance towards crisis in Syria unwavering

 BEIJING, (ST) _"  China's stand concerning  the crisis in Syria  is consistent and the Chinese  veto on the  draft resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council in February  this year, was correct", said Chinese expert in Middle East affairs and former ambassador to Iran Hua Li Ming on Friday, according to the Chinese News agency Xinhua.

The  Chinese expert added that many countries hold same  unwavering Chinese position, and consider it as responsible, noting that " China is playing an active role in search for a political solution to the crisis in Syria".

 

The Chinese researcher at the  International Studies Institute  Ann Hui    explained that the only solution to the crisis in Syria is through negotiations and by  political means , without external interference, stressing that war and violence are not the proper outlet  and  foreign  interference is unacceptable.

"  Undoubtedly , repeating the scenario  of the Iraqi war in  Syria constitutes a "disaster," said Xue Qing Guo a professor at the University of Foreign Studies in Beijing,   adding that the continuity of the Syrian government  serves the interest of the Syrian people , because the Syrian leadership enjoys  the support  of the Syrians."

 

T. Fateh