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Danziger: Echoes Of 1939

Jeff Danziger’s award-winning drawings, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, are published by more than 600 newspapers and websites. He has been a cartoonist for the Rutland Herald, the New York Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor; his work has appeared in newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to Le Monde and Izvestia. Danziger has published ten books of cartoons and a novel about the Vietnam War. He served in Vietnam as a linguist and intelligence officer, earning a Bronze Star and the Air Medal. Born in New York City, he now lives in Manhattan and Vermont. A video of the artist at work can be viewed here

Austrians Reject Far Right Candidate In Presidential Election

By Francois Murphy and Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s far-right presidential candidate was soundly defeated on Sunday, confounding forecasts of a tight election in which he would ride a wave of populism sweeping the West.

Norbert Hofer lost to former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen, who had put the June Brexit referendum at the center of his campaign, saying the far right would lead Austria down the same road and warning voters not to “play with this fire”.

“From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” said Van der Bellen.

Hofer, of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO), was seeking to become Europe’s first freely elected far-right head of state since World War Two but conceded defeat soon after polls closed.

A projection by pollster SORA for broadcaster ORF, which included a count of 99 percent of ballots cast in polling stations, showed Van der Bellen on 53.3 percent and Hofer on 46.7 percent with a margin of error of 0.4 percentage points.

The result dealt a blow to populists who had hoped a wave of anti-establishment anger sweeping Western democracies would carry Hofer to power after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the U.S. election of Donald Trump as president.

Although Austria’s president traditionally has a largely ceremonial role, the election was a test of populist sentiment in Europe ahead of elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands next year.

European governments breathed a sigh of relief at the result, which opinion polls beforehand had said was too close to call.

“A weight has fallen from all of Europe’s shoulders,” said German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat. “If the projections are confirmed, the result of the election in Austria is a clear victory for reason against right-wing populism.”

‘INFINITELY SAD’

The election was a re-run of a May vote that was overturned due to counting irregularities, which was a far tighter affair with Hofer winning 49.65 percent of the vote.

“I am infinitely sad that it didn’t work out,” Hofer said on his Facebook page less than an hour after polls closed on Sunday and the first projections were broadcast, later adding that he would run again in the next presidential election in six years’ time.

He said he would now turn his attention to running for parliament in an election due by 2018, which polls suggest the FPO would win since it now has the support of roughly a third of voters, well clear of its nearest rival.

“Congratulations to the FPO, which fought valiantly. The next legislative elections will show their victory!” tweeted Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, an FPO ally who will contest the French presidential election next year.

Data from SORA showed that Van der Bellen’s pro-European stance was his supporters’ second-strongest reason for voting for him, cited by 65 percent of them, just behind the view that he would best represent Austria abroad.

Among Hofer supporters, the top reason was that he “understands the concerns of people like me”, cited by 55 percent of those respondents.

But a potentially bigger threat to Europe’s political establishment looms. Italy is holding a referendum on Sunday on constitutional reform that could decide the political future of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has promised to resign if he loses.

There is also the more distant prospect of a clash between Van der Bellen and the FPO in the event of an FPO victory in a parliamentary election. The president plays an important role in the formation of coalitions after an election, and Van der Bellen has said he would try to prevent an FPO-led government.

Austrians will be glad to put behind them the comedy of errors that meant the election dragged on for almost a year, prompting some media to label the country a “banana republic”.

The result of the May 22 runoff was overturned mostly due to election officials cutting corners as they raced to complete the count. The re-run was then postponed because the glue on the envelopes for some postal ballots did not stick.

(Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Sasa Kavic and Branko Filipovic in Pinkafeld, Austria, and Shadia Nasralla and Michael Shields in Vienna; Editing by Susan Fenton and Pravin Char)

IMAGE: Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer waits for the first projections in his office in Vienna, Austria, December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Far-Right Candidate Defeated In Austrian Presidential Vote

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria narrowly avoided becoming the first EU country to elect a far-right candidate as head of state, as postal ballots decided a knife-edge presidential run-off vote in favor of his environmentalist rival.

After an election that had been too close to call on Sunday, a count of the absentee votes on Monday thrust the 72-year-old Alexander van der Bellen past anti-immigration Freedom Party rival Norbert Hofer and into the largely ceremonial post of president.

The Freedom Party and its resurgent European allies expressed disappointment at the defeat but delight at the surge in support for them from Austrian voters, while traditional parties of government breathed a sigh of relief.

“Fifty percent confidence in Norbert Hofer is a gigantic showing,” Hofer’s campaign manager Herbert Kickl told public broadcaster ORF, toning down comments before the election that suggested the Freedom Party (FPO) might contest the count.

“One thing is clear: there are many Norbert Hofers in the Freedom Party and we are very, very well placed for parliamentary elections – whenever they come,” he added.

“This is just the beginning,” FPO boss Heinz-Christian Strache said on his Facebook page.

One factor behind the strong FPO showing was dissatisfaction with the feuding ruling coalition of two centrist parties.

Opinion polls regularly suggest the Freedom Party would win parliamentary elections if held now. The current government’s term runs until 2018.

The Interior Ministry count gave van der Bellen 50.3 percent of the vote, compared to 49.7 percent for Hofer, who had run on an anti-immigration platform. The margin of victory was just over 31,000 out of nearly 4.5 million valid votes cast.

Hofer conceded defeat in a post on his Facebook page, thanking his supporters and telling them not to be despondent.

“Of course I am sad today,” he said. “I would have liked to take care of our wonderful country for you as president.”

 

RELIEF

Hofer’s defeat averts a big potential embarrassment for Europe’s political establishment, increasingly under threat from populist parties that have profited from concerns about the refugee crisis, weak growth and high unemployment.

“It’s a relief to see the Austrians reject populism and extremism,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a Twitter post. “Everyone in Europe must draw lessons from this.”

Prosperous Austria has been at the center of a record influx of migrants, fanning resentment towards the two centrist parties – the Social Democrats (SPO) and the conservative People’s Party – that have dominated politics since the end of World War Two.

Sunday’s provisional result, which did not include the postal ballots, had shown Hofer ahead.

But the SORA institute, a pollster, said that mail-in ballots were likely to favor former Greens leader van der Bellen because they are traditionally used by more educated voters.

The vote in Austria, a country of 8.5 million people, had unsettled leaders elsewhere in Europe, particularly in neighboring Germany where the new anti-immigration Alternative for Germany is on the rise.

In France, the National Front of Marine Le Pen is leading in polls ahead of a presidential election next year. Across the Channel, the UK Independence Party is campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23.

“Despite the disappointment, a historic score for our ally from the FPO,” National Front Secretary General Nicolas Bay said on Twitter. “The future belongs to patriots!”

Hofer, 45, has described himself as a center-right politician and told voters not to believe suggestions from other parties that he would be a dangerous president.
Photo: Alexander Van der Bellen, a former leader of the leftist Greens party now running as an independent, waves to supporters as he arrives for his final election rally ahead of Austrian presidential election in Vienna, Austria, May 20, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Refugee Children, Close To Death, Found In Van In Austria

By Karin Strohecker

VIENNA (Reuters) — Three young children suffering from dehydration and close to death have been rescued from a van crammed with 26 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, Austrian police said on Saturday.

The two girls and a boy, aged five and six, were found in a dire state when police stopped the vehicle after a chase near the Austrian town of St. Peter am Hart on the border with Germany, a police spokesman said. They are recovering in hospital.

“The emergency doctor told us they would not have made it much longer — two, maybe three hours,” said David Furtner, police spokesman for Upper Austria province.

The incident follows the discovery of the corpses of 71 refugees in an abandoned lorry on an Austrian highway on Thursday — victims of an unfolding tragedy as refugees and migrants escaping conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East flock to Europe in unprecedented numbers.

The International Organization for Migration estimates a third of a million people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, leaving from Libya, Turkey, and other countries to land in Europe.

Hundreds have drowned in shipwrecks but the recent deaths on land have exposed another horrific side of the people-smuggling racket.

“The driver did not give a damn about the people in the back. We would not transport animals under these conditions on our roads in Austria,” said Furtner, referring to Friday’s discovery.

Austria lies on the way from poorer countries in southern and eastern Europe where many refugees first land, such as Greece, to more prosperous nations in the north and west.

Driver Arrested

The 29-year-old Romanian driver of the van found on Friday, registered in Romania, was arrested. The children and their parents were taken to the hospital in Braunau, where they are now in a stable condition.

Among the dead found in the lorry on Thursday, four were children, one of them a baby girl, police said on Saturday. They were presumed to be from Syria — in the grip of a four-year-old civil war — or possibly Afghanistan.

Three Bulgarians and an Afghan arrested in Hungary in connection with the deaths made their first appearance in a court in the central Hungarian town of Kecskemet on Saturday. They were given one month’s detention pending further proceedings.

A prosecution spokesman told journalists the truck had left Kecskemet and picked up the migrants near Hungary’s border with Serbia, before taking them through Hungary to Austria.

Police hoped to identify the dead refugees by examining mobile phones found on some of the bodies. Searches of backpacks, luggage, and clothing had provided few clues apart from one Syrian travel document, said Helmut Marban, a police spokesman in Burgenland province.

Marban was speaking in front of a former customs hall where the lorry was parked on a tarpaulin to catch fluids, with investigators in protective suits gathering forensic evidence.

Police estimated the refugees could have been dead for up to two days and the truck might have been standing on the hard shoulder of the highway for as long as 24 hours.

“It seems unbelievable,” said Marban, asked about how 71 people could have fitted into the medium-sized refrigeration lorry.

“At first when they got in they were of course standing, but when we had to bring them out they were (entangled) all together.”

In nearby camps, refugees said the news had left them stunned, but they saw little choice but to flee to Europe.

“We had to walk so much, it was so dangerous, in the forest and in the water,” said 21-year-old Qariburahman, who had been on the road for a month before Austrian police picked him up and brought him to the Nickelsdorf refugee reception center.

“When I came from Afghanistan, about three people died on the way, the way is very dangerous,” he said.

His journey had cost him $5,000.

A Syrian refugee in the camp of Traiskirchen south of Vienna said people had no choice but to go with traffickers.

“We didn’t know what the car was, maybe it’s a truck, maybe it’s a van. And we had to follow [the trafficker] because in his area, he is the boss,” he said, his pregnant wife and baby son close by.

“My wife, she told me, oh maybe we were supposed to be one of them … maybe it is one of my friends, maybe it is one of my brothers on that truck.'”

“Mass Grave”

On another front in the crisis, Libyan authorities arrested three people on suspicion of involvement in launching a boat packed with migrants that sank off the country’s Mediterranean coast, killing up to 200 people, a security official said.

The vessel, with up to 400 African, Syrian, and Asian migrants on board, capsized on Thursday after setting off from the town of Zuwara, close to the Italian island of Lampedusa and a center of operations for people smugglers exploiting the anarchy in Libya, a country with two rival governments.

By Saturday, 115 bodies had been recovered and about 198 migrants rescued, officials said.

Arrests of smugglers are rare in Libya, where the judiciary has little power since the country is effectively controlled by former rebel groups which helped to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The head of the European Parliament meanwhile said the “glaring failures” of some European countries to take in refugees were turning the Mediterranean into a mass grave.

Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat, said those European governments that had resisted European Union proposals to agree to a common plan must do more to deal with the crisis.

He did not single out any states. However, Hungary, which is part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to contain what it calls a threat to European security, prosperity, and identity.

“The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave, gruesome scenes play out at borders, there is mutual blame — and those in greatest need, seeking our protection, are left without help,” Schulz told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper.

Germany’s highest court on Saturday overturned a weekend ban on assemblies in an eastern town that was the scene of violent protests against refugees. More than 30 policemen were injured in clashes in the town of Heidenhau, near Dresden, last weekend.

Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Heidenau on Monday and condemned the protests. Germany expects the number of asylum seekers to quadruple to about 800,000 this year.

(Additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Kecskemet, Anna McIntosh in Traiskirchen, Shadia Nasrallah in Vienna and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Photo: Police escort suspects in the deaths of 71 refugees found in a truck on an Austrian motorway, in Kecskemet, Hungary, August 29, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh