Luxembourg: Ruling coalition secures majority in polls

By Serife Cetin

BRUSSELS (AA) – The ruling coalition in Luxembourg has won 31 seats in the parliamentary elections to continue to remain in power for the next five years, local media reported on Monday.

The coalition included Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party that won 31 of total 60 seats.

Previously, the coalition parties held 32 seats in the outgoing parliament.

The Pirate Party has also won two seats, entering parliament for the first time, the Luxembourg Times reported.

With the population of 600,000 in Luxembourg, 257,000 citizens were eligible to vote.

In the Europe's second smallest country, a total of 200,000 people from neighboring countries — Belgium, France and Germany — enter and exit the country for business daily.

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Iraq’s Sistani pulls support from al-Abadi, al-Maliki

BAGHDAD (AA) – Prominent Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani does not support either current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or former PM Nouri al-Maliki to lead Iraq’s next government, according to a Monday statement carried by a website known to be close to al-Sistani.

According to the Iraqi constitution, the largest bloc in parliament has the right to select the next prime minister.

“Most of the public no longer believes that these individuals can improve the country’s situation and successfully wage the fight against corruption,” the statement read.

"A new personality — someone competent, fair and courageous — must be chosen instead,” it added.

Al-Sistani enjoys the respect of a large segment of the population, especially in Iraq’s Shia-majority central and southern provinces.

Formation of a new government has been stalled since May, when Iraq held a hard-fought parliamentary poll, the results of which were later subject to a recount.

Erdogan: People's Alliance to continue in parliament

By Meryem Goktas and Sibel Ugurlu

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey’s president said on Friday that the successful People’s Alliance from last month’s elections — a coalition of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) — will continue in the new parliament.

Speaking to AK Party provincial heads at party headquarters in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "We will continue the People’s Alliance in the parliament."

Erdogan thanked the Turkish people for the high turnout in the June 24 elections — over 86 percent — saying that this "frustrated" those who wanted to "drive Turkey into a corner."

– New Cabinet to be announced Monday

Erdogan also said initial steps for the transition to Turkey's new presidential system have been completed, including changes related to the Cabinet ministers, and the re-defined management of some institutions and general directors.

"On Monday, the first presidential decree will be issued soon after the swearing-in ceremony, and the reorganized presidential Cabinet will be announced that same evening," he said.

Erdogan added that for the first time the Cabinet will include figures unaffiliated to any party.

"We will speed up the work of the state and make it [more] effective by merging institutions that do similar work and eliminating institutions that have become dysfunctional," he added.

Addressing the upcoming local elections set for March 2019, Erdogan highlighted the importance of analyzing last month’s election outcome.

"There are local elections ahead of us, we have to look at June 24 and take the necessary steps," he said.

On Monday July 9, Erdogan — in his second term as president — will be sworn in for the first time under the new executive presidential system.

The swearing-in ceremony will be held at 4.00 p.m. local time (1300GMT) at parliament in the capital Ankara, sources said on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Later, a ceremony will be held at the presidential complex to mark the country’s transition to the presidential system of government.

The June 24 vote marked Turkey's transition to an executive presidential system of government, doing away with the prime minister's post, among other changes.

German coalition partners agree on migration compromise

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their coalition partner the Christian Socialist Union (CSU) on Monday reached a compromise on migration policy after weeks of tensions that threatened the future of the government.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin after final negotiations between the CDU and CSU, Merkel said they have agreed to set up “transit centers” at Germany’s border for asylum seekers who arrived in the country after entering the European Union (EU) from another member state.

“We will return them to the countries they arrived from and they were already registered, in agreement with these states,” Merkel said.

The chancellor underlined that while taking several measures at a national level, her government would also continue its efforts towards enhancing cooperation between EU member states to address the refugee crisis.

CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who advocated an anti-immigrant agenda, had long insisted on stricter measures and on Sunday threatened to quit the government.

Earlier, Merkel opposed Seehofer’s proposals and argued that unilateral moves would have “a domino effect”, prompting other EU member states to push back refugees.

The CSU, which faces a regional election in Bavaria in October, has recently sharpened its criticism of Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees and argued that Germany should not wait for other EU member states and move forward with unilateral measures to stop irregular migration.

Germany has received more than a million refugees in the last three years, mostly from Syria and Iraq.

Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open doors for refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution was widely criticized by conservatives and exploited by far-right and populist parties.

Her CDU and its sister party CSU suffered heavy losses in the country's federal elections last year while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party scored record gains and entered parliament for the first time.

Coalition to begin drawing up Iraq's next government

By Aref Youssef and Ali Jawad

BAGHDAD (AA) – A coalition of the three parliamentary blocs — led by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon bloc — will be responsible for drawing up Iraq’s next government, according to a Friday statement released by the coalition.

Along with Sairoon (which won 54 parliamentary seats in Iraq’s May 12 poll), the coalition includes Iyad Allawi’s National Coalition (22 seats) and Ammar al-Hakim’s National Wisdom Current (19 seats).

According to the statement, the coalition is committed to preserving Iraq’s national unity; implementing economic reforms; encouraging private-sector activity; and promoting investment and local development.

The statement also stresses the need to avoid the “politicization of the government, administrative and military sectors”.

It further calls for an independent judiciary; “balanced” foreign relations — both regional and international — based on principles of non-interference in other country’s affairs; and the swift repatriation of Iraq’s large displaced population.

One source within the coalition, who spoke to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity, said: “Legally, the coalition cannot take any steps [to form a new government] until Iraq’s Federal Court approves the results of the May 12 parliamentary election.”

Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council on Thursday announced that newly-appointed electoral officials had begun the process of recounting votes following weeks of dispute over poll results and widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

On Wednesday, parliament voted in favor of conducting a manual recount of the poll results. Shortly afterward, a nine-judge panel was appointed to assume the responsibilities of Iraq’s official electoral commission.

Lawmakers first began calling for a vote recount late last month. Electoral commission officials had responded by warning of “potential civil unrest” if poll results were overturned.

Earlier this week, the government slapped a travel ban on top electoral commission officials pending further investigation into fraud allegations.

Al-Sadr, for his part, says parliament lacks the authority to overturn final election results.

UPDATE – Germany: Social Democrats approve coalition deal

UPDATES WITH MORE DETAILS

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) voted in favor of forming a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, according to results announced on Sunday.

The SPD said 66 percent of its members who took part in the binding postal ballot approved the coalition deal with Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc.

Some 239,604 members of the SPD voted “yes”, and 123,329 members voted “no” in the mini-referendum, party treasurer Dietmar Nietan told a news conference in Berlin.

The vote cleared the way for a "grand coalition" government between the SPD, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party Christian Social Union (CSU).

The leaders of the SPD and Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc had reached a preliminary agreement on Feb. 7 to form another “grand coalition” government, after a 136-day post-election stalemate.

The party organs of the CDU and CSU had approved the coalition deal last month.

Merkel-led conservative-left coalition government is expected to take office following a vote at the German parliament on March 14.

It will be the third "grand coalition" between the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats since 2005 and will grant Merkel a fourth consecutive term as the chancellor.

Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance emerged as the largest bloc in the parliament following September’s federal election, but they failed to secure an absolute majority.

The SPD suffered its worst result in decades but remained the second-largest party in parliament.

German conservatives approve coalition deal with SPD

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats overwhelmingly approved a coalition deal with the Social Democrats at a special party congress on Monday.

Some 948 delegates of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voted in favor of forming a “grand coalition” government with the Social Democrats, versus only 27 delegates against.

The vote strengthened Merkel’s position within the party, after senior party figures and the party’s youth wing accused the deal of giving too many concessions to the Social Democrats.

Merkel responded to these criticisms by arguing that the CDU had to assume responsibility for Germany, and make compromises to open the way for a stable coalition government in the wake of last September's election.

“We had a hard struggle, we had to make compromises, but we also achieved many points,” she stressed.

Merkel’s conservative bloc CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) reached an agreement earlier this month to form a coalition government, after a 136-day post-election stalemate.

The Social Democrats are currently holding a mini-referendum on the coalition agreement with the CDU and its sister party the CSU.

A postal ballot of the SPD’s 460,000 members on the coalition deal began on Feb. 20 and will end on March 2.

The results will be announced on March 4, according to party officials.

DoD watchdog confirms training of Syria border force

By Safvan Allahverdi

WASHINGTON (AA) – A Department of Defense watchdog report released Monday confirmed that the U.S.-backed PYD/PKK-led SDF continues to train a border security force despite repeated denials from the Pentagon.

"The SDF (PYD/PKK) were beginning to train internal security forces, border security forces, and explosive hazard reduction specialists and have drawn up plans to restructure their counter terrorism forces," according to the quarterly Lead Inspector General report to Congress.

The report also indicated that the U.S.-led Coalition has trained more than 11,000 SDF members out of a total of 12,500 members of "Syrian opposition groups" since late 2016.

The U.S. has supported the PYD/PKK under the name of the SDF, which is considered by Ankara to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group that has waged a more than 30-year brutal war against the Turkish state.

American support for the terror group has long vexed Ankara as Washington views the SDF as a "reliable partner" in its fight against Daesh and continues to provide it with arms and equipment in the face of strong objections by Turkey.

Beside the training to be given to the SDF, it said the U.S. continued to equip the group but had taken measures to track the transfer of equipment allocated for the YPG — a part of the PYD/PKK — in particular to try to ensure that materiel provided to the YPG is used for its intended purposes.

Stating that the SDF was also trained for providing security in areas that were seized from Daesh, it added there are more than 3,000 trained SDF members in Syria's city of Raqqah.

The U.S.-led coalition, officially known as Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), last month said it was creating a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria along Turkey's border.

After strong objections by Turkey, the Pentagon appeared to back off somewhat from plans for the Border Security Force, comprised of local security forces trained in Syria, saying the U.S.-led coalition is training the PKK/PYD-led SDF as a "stabilization” and “hold force".

But the Pentagon still plans to establish and fund the group, according to a budget proposal that asks for $250 million for “border security requirements related to the counter-[Daesh] mission" in Syria.

Germany: Merkel, SPD agree on coalition government

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats have agreed to form a “grand coalition” government after 136 days of political stalemate, media reported on Wednesday.

Leaders of the Christian democratic bloc (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have reached a breakthrough after marathon talks that started Tuesday morning, German news agency DPA reported.

The SPD, which had been reluctant to enter a new coalition with conservatives, is expected to hold key ministerial posts, including foreign, finance and labor, according to the reports.

Merkel’s Bavarian ally Christian Social Union (CSU) secured four ministries, including the Interior.

The coalition deal is still subject to approval by the SPD’s around 460,000 members.

The SPD’s traditional left-wing and the youth organization, Jusos, have been opposing a coalition government with the Christian Democrats, and calling for a reform within the party.

On Sept. 24, the Social Democrats suffered their worst election result in decades, but remained the second-largest party in parliament.

Many Social Democrats have blamed their poor showing on the party's membership in the previous “grand coalition”.

Germany’s Merkel, SPD eye ‘good relations’ with Turkey

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and Social Democratic Party (SPD) have underlined their desire for "good relations" with Turkey, in a 167-pages long draft coalition government agreement.

“Turkey is an important partner of Germany and EU’s neighbour, with that we have multifaceted relations. Therefore, having good relations with Turkey is of special interest for us,” a draft agreement obtained by the Anadolu Agency on Tuesday said.

The negotiation teams have concluded the coalition draft, including the section on Turkey policy, but were still struggling on Tuesday night to overcome differences on various other policy areas such as arms exports.

In the draft coalition agreement, Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc and the SPD expressed concerns on democracy and rule of law in Turkey, but also adopted a more moderate approach, compared with their pre-election rhetoric.

Despite their pre-election promise to terminate Turkey’s EU membership process, the parties refrained from any radical proposal in their coalition document.

But they underlined that no new chapter would be opened in Turkey’s EU membership talks unless Ankara achieves progress in addressing EU’s criticism on issues such as democracy, rule of law and human rights.

The coalition document argued that Ankara’s expectations on updating EU-Turkey Customs Union, and benefiting from visa-free travel to Europe would depend on Ankara’s steps to meet its obligations.

The document did not include any reference to the “privileged partnership”, a move suggested by Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the past, as an alternative to Turkey’s full membership perspective.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the SPD were planning to conclude coalition negotiations on Tuesday night.

Germany spent 135 days without an elected government following parliamentary election on Sept. 24, 2017, the longest period since the Second World War.