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Angela Merkel: Berlin Christmas Market Attack Was Likely Terrorism

BERLIN (Reuters) – A Pakistani asylum-seeker arrested on suspicion of killing 12 people by mowing through a Berlin Christmas market in a truck may not be the attacker, and the real perpetrator could still be on the run, German police said on Tuesday.

The truck smashed into wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, one of west Berlin’s most famous landmarks, at about 8 p.m. on Monday. Forty-eight people were injured, 18 severely.

News of the arrest of the 23-year-old Pakistani led politicians in Germany and beyond to demand a crackdown on immigration.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: “There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack.”

She added: “I know it would be especially hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum.”

In a dramatic twist, police later said the suspect had denied the offence and might not be the right man.

“According to my information it’s uncertain whether he was really the driver,” Police President Klaus Kandt told a news conference.

Berlin police tweeted that they were “particularly alert” because of the denial. “Please be alert,” they added.

Die Welt newspaper quoted an unnamed police chief as saying:

“We have the wrong man. And therefore a new situation. The true perpetrator is still armed, at large and can cause fresh damage.”

The truck belonged to a Polish freight company and its rightful driver was found dead in the vehicle. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said a pistol believed to have been used to kill him had not yet been found.

German media said the arrested man had jumped out of the driver’s cab and run down the street towards the Tiergarten, a vast park in central Berlin. Several witnesses called police, including one who chased the suspect while on the phone, constantly updating officials on his whereabouts.

“STATE OF WAR”

The attack fueled immediate demands for a change to Merkel’s immigration policies, under which more than a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have arrived in Germany this year and last.

“We must say that we are in a state of war, although some people, who always only want to see good, do not want to see this,” said Klaus Bouillon, interior minister of the state of Saarland and a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said: “We owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the whole population to rethink our immigration and security policy and to change it.”

The record influx has hit Merkel’s ratings as she prepares to run for a fourth term next year, and boosted support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). Senior AfD member Marcus Pretzell blamed Merkel for the attack on Twitter.

AfD leader Frauke Petry said Germany was no longer safe and “radical Islamic terrorism has struck in the heart of Germany”.

The incident evoked memories of an attack in Nice, France in July when a Tunisian-born man drove a 19-tonne truck along the beach front, mowing down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. That was claimed by Islamic State.

EUROPE DIVIDED

The mass influx of migrants and refugees to the European Union has deeply divided its 28 members and fueled the rise of populist anti-immigration movements that hope to capitalize on public concerns next year in elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said the latest attack would change perceptions of migration. “I think that the cup of patience is beginning to spill over and Europe’s public will rightfully expect rather stronger measures,” he said.

Nigel Farage of Britain’s UK Independence Party tweeted: “Terrible news from Berlin but no surprise. Events like these will be the Merkel legacy.”

On Tuesday morning, investigators removed the black truck from the site for forensic examination. People left flowers at the scene and notes, one of which read: “Keep on living, Berliners!” One woman was crying as she stopped by the flowers.

Bild newspaper cited security sources as saying the arrested man was Naved B. and had arrived in Germany a year ago. In legal cases German officials routinely withhold the full name of suspects, using only an initial.

A security source told Reuters the suspect had been staying at a refugee center in the now defunct Tempelhof airport.

Die Welt said police special forces stormed a hangar at Tempelhof at around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT). A refugee there who gave his name only as Ahmed told Reuters security guards had told him there was a raid at around 4 a.m.

Prosecutors declined to immediately comment on the report.

“FEAR OF EVIL”

Merkel and de Maiziere both stressed the need for Germans to remain uncowed by the attack.

“We do not want to live paralyzed by the fear of evil,” said the chancellor, who discussed the attack by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama and convened a meeting of her security cabinet.

“Even if it is difficult in these hours, we will find the strength for the life we want to live in Germany – free, together and open.”

Other European countries said they were reviewing security.

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said he had told the heads of regional police forces to intensify surveillance measures. He called for biometric and fingerprint checks to be introduced along the Balkan route traveled by many migrants arriving in Europe, in order to better control foreign jihadist fighters’ movements.

London police said they were reviewing their plans for protecting public events over the festive period.

Flags will be hung at half-mast around Germany on Tuesday and Berlin Christmas markets were closed for the day out of respect. The German soccer league announced a minute’s silence at all matches on Tuesday and Wednesday, at which players will wear black ribbons.

Dresden tourist information service said authorities had erected concrete blocks around the Striezelmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets, to increase security.

Festive markets selling ornate, often hand-crafted decorations, seasonal foods and hot spiced wine are a beloved tradition in Germany.

Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People’s Party, said: “It’s not an attack on a country; it’s an attack on our way of life, on the free society in which we are allowed to live.”

(Reporting by Michelle Martin, Caroline Copley, Joseph Nasr, Emma Thomasson, Paul Carrel, Madeline Chambers in Berlin; additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Vienna; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

IMAGE: A man lights a candle near the scene where a truck ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital last night in Berlin, Germany, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Migrant Chaos At Budapest Train Station; Germany Says EU Rules Still Hold

By Krisztina Than and Madeline Chambers

BUDAPEST/BERLIN (Reuters) – Hundreds of angry migrants demonstrated outside Budapest’s Eastern Railway Terminus on Tuesday demanding they be allowed to travel on to Germany, as the biggest ever influx of migrants into the European Union left its asylum policies in tatters.

Around 1,000 people waved tickets, clapping, booing and shouting “Germany! Germany!” outside the station. Later they sat down, staring at a police blockade erected at the entrance.

A refugee crisis rivaling the Balkan wars of the 1990s as Europe’s worst since World War Two has polarized and confounded the European Union, which has no mechanism to cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of poor and desperate people.

Germany is likely to accept by far the largest share. In the case of those fleeing the Syrian civil war it has effectively suspended an EU rule that asylum seekers must apply in the first EU country they reach. But it insisted on Tuesday that the rule was nevertheless still in force and urged other EU countries to abide by it.

The vast majority of refugees fleeing violence and other migrants escaping poverty arrive on Europe’s southern and eastern edges but are determined to press on and seek asylum in richer and more generous countries further north and west. That means illegally crossing a bloc that has no internal border controls to stop them.

Hungary has emerged as one of the main flashpoints of the crisis as the primary gateway for migrants traveling over land through the Balkans and into the EU.

Hungarian authorities shut the Budapest train station altogether on Tuesday, then reopened it but barred entry to migrants. About 100 police in helmets and wielding batons guarded the station. Dozens of migrants who were inside were forced out.

Hungary’s decision to bar the migrants from westbound trains was a reversal from the previous day, when Hungary and Austria let trainloads of undocumented migrants leave for Germany, a violation of EU rules they now have little power to enforce.

European laws, known as the “Dublin rules”, require asylum seekers to apply in the country where they first enter the EU and remain there until their applications are processed, even though the 26 members of the bloc’s Schengen zone maintain no border controls between them.

The countries where most first reach the bloc – Italy, Greece and Hungary – say they have no capacity to process applications on such a scale.

Germany announced last month it would allow Syrians arriving from elsewhere in the EU to apply for asylum without being sent back to the country where they entered the bloc. It insisted on Tuesday that this did not change the law, and other states must demand migrants register where they arrive. Other countries, including Austria, have demanded clarification from Berlin.

“The decision, driven by practical considerations, by the (German) Office of Migration and Refugees … not, in most cases, to enforce the sending back of Syrian asylum seekers to other EU member states underlines the humanitarian responsibility of Germany for these particularly hard hit refugees,” a German Interior Ministry Spokesman said.

“Germany has not suspended Dublin. Dublin rules are still valid and we expect European member states to stick to them.”

WHERE SHOULD WE GO?

European leaders want the 28-member EU to do more to organize the unprecedented influx.

“For those refugees who are being persecuted or have fled war, there should be a fair distribution in Europe based on the economic strength, productivity and size of each country,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a joint news conference in Berlin with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

She and Rajoy both said the bloc’s executive European Commission should draw up a list of safe countries, making it easier to send home migrants who were not genuine refugees.

The crisis has polarized a continent which is committed to the principle of providing refuge for those in danger but has a growing sector of public opinion that believes too much immigration drives down wages and dilutes national cultures.

Thousands of migrants have drowned this year attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean in rickety vessels, while the peril of the overland journey was hammered home when 71 dead bodies were found in an abandoned truck in Austria last week.

Political parties that oppose immigration have gained ground across Europe, not least in Hungary where the government has reinforced the border with a razor wire fence and deployed thousands of extra police. More than 140,000 people have crossed into Hungary from Serbia this year alone.

Antal Rogan, the parliament caucus leader of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling centre-right Fidesz party, said on Tuesday “the very existence of Christian Europe” was under threat.

“Would we like our grandchildren to grow up in a United European Caliphate? My answer to that is no,” Rogan told the pro-government daily Magyar Idok.

German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles said the influx of refugees and migrants would mean an additional 240,000-460,000 people would be entitled to German social benefits next year, costing the state an extra 3.3 billion euros ($3.7 billion).

Hungary let migrants board westbound trains on Monday before unexpectedly shuttering the station again on Tuesday morning. Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the closure was an attempt to enforce EU law.

Marah, a 20 year-old woman from Aleppo, Syria, said her family had bought six tickets for a RailJet train scheduled to leave for Vienna at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

“They should find a solution,” she told Reuters. “We are thousands here, where should we go?”

(Reporting by Budapest and Berlin bureaus; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Photo: Migrants rest in an underground station near the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest, Hungary, September 1, 2015.  REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Exhibit At Texas Museum Focuses On 1936 Olympics In Berlin

By Pam LeBlanc, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas–In 1936, sports, politics and propaganda collided in Berlin in one of the most controversial Olympic Games ever.

The Berlin Games gave us Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in track and field, but they gave us much more–not all of it as triumphant.

“The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936,” a temporary exhibit at the University of Texas’ H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, explores the history and impact of the 1936 Games. It documents the treatment of Jews, blacks and Gypsies leading up to the competition, shows how Hitler and the Nazis used it as propaganda, and how other countries responded.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., created the multimedia exhibit, which opened nearly 20 years ago in conjunction with the Atlanta Olympics. The Stark Center, tucked in the north end zone of the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, teamed with the Texas Program in Sports and Media to bring it to Austin.

“We felt it was important to have it here,” said Terry Todd, co-founder and director of the Stark Center, which includes a research library and museum and is one of about 20 designated Olympic Studies Centers around the world. “People get wrapped up in sports, but sometimes don’t realize how political it is. I think it’s important that we remember what happens in the world of sport has a broader cultural impact.”

The exhibit, Todd says, reminds people what can happen when sport is subverted for political reasons, and why race and religion should never be a reason to exclude someone from sport.

A series of lectures by sports historians and a showing of the German film “Berlin 1936” are planned in conjunction with the exhibit; dates have not yet been set.

“We’ve always liked to look at issues of anti-Semitism within a broader context, and there’s nothing more universal than sports and the Olympics,” said Robert Abzug, director of Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT, which is helping to organize the lectures.

The Olympics were awarded to Berlin two years before Adolf Hitler took power. At first, he was ambivalent about hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. Advisers convinced him he could use the Games as a propaganda tool, and, ultimately, he planned to make Germany the permanent home of the Olympic Games.

“He realized this would be a way to show the world what his vision of the world would be,” Todd said.

Some U.S. leaders urged a boycott of the 1936 Olympics, but the effort failed. Fifty countries participated, and Germany presented a peaceful, tolerant image to tourists. The Games were bigger and grander than ever, and, for the first time, televised. Officials temporarily removed anti-Jewish signs, and visitors didn’t know that non-Aryans were being rounded up and sent to internment camps or that a concentration camp was being built just outside Berlin.

Fitness was part of Hitler’s plan to strengthen the Aryan race. Jews and Gypsies were banned from sports facilities and competition leading up to the Games. The exhibit includes photographs of German soldiers diving into a pool wearing field equipment at a pre-game show at the Olympic trials and huge stadiums of youth exercising together.

“Everybody thinks of sports as a positive side to life. (The exhibit) really shows what happened politically, and how sports can be used as a propaganda tool to deceive and demonize races and religions,” said Gregg Philipson, a commissioner with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission who also has a personal collection of Holocaust items. “This shows the other side of what can happen.”

Among the most touching components of the display are photos of Jewish athletes who were later killed in Holocaust.

Germany won the most medals overall at the Berlin Olympics, but athletes from around the world blasted gaping holes in the Nazi myth of Aryan supremacy.

Blacks won 14 medals at the Games. Twelve Jewish athletes, including two Americans, also won medals. Two more _ U.S. track athletes Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman–might have added to the tally, but they were benched at the last minute and replaced by Jesse Owens, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, and Ralph Metcalfe. That reconfigured an American 4-by-100 relay team went on to set a world record of 39.8 seconds, which stood for 20 years.

Many people believe that Hitler specifically refused to shake Owens’ hand because he was black. But according to the exhibit, Hitler had decided ahead of time not to shake the hands of any of the athletes–not just Owens.

There’s a UT connection to the exhibit, too: Adolph Kiefer, who won a gold medal in backstroke at the Berlin Olympics, moved to Austin shortly after to swim for the Longhorns. He stayed a few years, but later transferred to the University of Illinois.

IF YOU GO

“The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936” is on display through Jan. 29 at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, 2100 San Jacinto St. Admission is free. For more information, go to http://starkcenter.org/naziolympics”starkcenter.org/naziolympics.

Photo by Joe Haupt via Flickr

Travel Smart: Berlin Borrows From Detroit To Lure Tourists To Vibrant City

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

As a tourist destination, is Detroit like Berlin?

Germans think so.

They see both cities as having the same gritty, urban, post-industrial heritage, fueled by the pulsing beat of techno music. In Detroit, Berliners feel a kindred sensibility of old troubles, lingering decay, layered with current energy and optimism.

And they’re full of ideas for Detroit to attract visitors and new residents. Among them?

“Cancel the 2 a.m. curfew, and many people would come,” says Lutz Leichsenring, of Clubcommission Berlin, a city that pulsates with 334 music venues, including round-the-clock clubbing and all-night parties.

Techno was invented in Detroit. Now Berlin is not only Germany’s capital but a global electronic music hotspot, which helped to change the image of Berlin to a young city.

The Berlin folks–visitBerlin tourism officials and artistic creative development brains–were in Detroit this month, and they met by invitation with counterparts in the arts community here and public officials.

“They told us, ‘You have a very romanticized view of Detroit,’ ” admits Mario Husten, chairman of Berlin’s Holzmarkt Cooperative, who focuses on urban creativity issues. “I don’t think so.”

The reason? Detroit may not be appreciated by everyone, but it has one thing that soulless, bland cities don’t have: a unique, authentic, creative culture. That quality is more important than money, he says: “Economy follows culture, not vice versa. You can’t buy culture.”

For me, the Berliners’ enthusiastic embrace of all things Detroit was a breath of fresh air. But it also says a lot about Berlin, too. The powerful city that rose and fell with the Third Reich in World War II was ruthlessly chopped in half by Russia and the Allies after the war. When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, it revealed deep emotional tears in the reunified city and miles of dilapidated city buildings.

“Berlin was a severely wounded city,” says Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin, adding that music, clubs and creative culture were the first positive healing forces there. “Crucial was the courage of the people to take their fate into their own hands.”

It’s been an exhilarating uphill climb for the city of 3.5 million since then.

Did they give in to despair, an emotion many metro Detroiters have felt in our darkest days?

“No, never,” says Husten. But tourism officials showed photos of the barren, gray city center of the past and the lively, colorful thriving city of Berlin now.

The city also did other things they think Detroit could copy.

They invited as many discount airlines to fly into Berlin’s airport as possible.

They have a vital, well-operated public transit system. (Sadly, no Detroit M-1 rail is going to be matching that anytime soon.)

They attracted artists and creative types with very low-rent studio space and embraced spontaneous types of projects and artwork and people. Detroit is all that.

The Detroit journalists at the meeting were both flattered and perplexed when the Berliners said there even is a small theater in Berlin that shows only Detroit-themed movies.
I never heard of it, but, hey, I’m all for it.

Of course, any tourist who has visited Berlin knows it could never be mistaken for Detroit. It has 6,000 new hotel beds just this year. It has 180 museums. It has 400 galleries. It is the nation’s capital. Berlin is now the third most visited European city behind London and Paris.

Still, the Berliners have an affection for Detroit. They want to help. They believe in the power of art and creative ideas to heal ragged wounds of the past. And that is kind of inspirational.

___
(c)2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Bryan Debus via Flickr