Germany names new spy chief

BERLIN (AA) – Germany on Thursday named a new head for its domestic intelligence agency BfV, which has been embroiled in various scandals in recent years.

Thomas Haldenwang, currently vice president of the BfV, was appointed by the Cabinet to head the agency, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told a news conference in Berlin.

Haldenwang’s predecessor Hans-Georg Maassen was fired last week after his controversial remarks on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, and his alleged contacts with senior politicians from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Maassen was sharply criticized by Social Democrats for not taking serious the growing threat posed by the right-wing extremist groups.

In recent years, multiple scandals at the BfV have sparked public criticism and opposition parties accused the agency for covering up the murders of the neo-Nazi group NSU.

The shadowy NSU killed 10 people, including eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant as well as a police officer, between 2000 and 2007, but the murders long remained unresolved.

While recent revelations have shown that the BfV had informants who had contacts with the NSU suspects, officials insisted that they had no prior information about the killings.

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Germany welcomes draft Brexit deal

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Germany welcomed a draft agreement between Brussels and London on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“I am very pleased that the chief negotiators of the EU and Great Britain has reached a preliminary agreement in Brexit negotiations,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.

“After months of uncertainty we finally have a clear signal from the Great Britain on how an orderly withdrawal can proceed,” he added.

Maas underlined that Germany would continue to support very close relations between the U.K. and EU after the Brexit.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the agreement after a five-hour Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

The EU accepted the idea of whole-U.K. customs union with the bloc in a major concession to please U.K.'s demands to protect its territorial integrity, according to local media.

Full details of the deal are expected Thursday with May’s statement to the parliament.

The U.K. is set to leave the EU next March.

Germany records over 12,600 far-right crimes in 2018

BERLIN (AA) – German police recorded 12,613 far-right crimes in 2018, according to government figures released on Wednesday.

Far-right extremists carried out some 688 violent attacks against foreigners, immigrants or political rivals from January to September this year, the government said in its written reply to a parliamentary question.

At least 386 individuals were injured in the attacks inspired by far-right ideology.

Brandenburg saw the highest number of violent crimes by right-wing extremists, with 77 attacks recorded in the eastern state.

In Saxony, which saw anti-migrant protests recently, the police recorded 75 violent attacks from January to September.

Germany fails to condemn Israel’s aggression in Gaza

BERLIN (AA) – Germany has urged maximum restraint in Gaza on Tuesday, but failed to condemn Israel’s recent military airstrikes that martyred at least six Palestinians.

“Any further escalation must be avoided. We are calling for maximum restraint and an end to the violence,” German Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that Israel “has the right to defend its security”.

At least six Palestinians were martyred in renewed Israeli attacks in Gaza since Monday. The Israeli army said the attacks came in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory.

German Foreign Ministry voiced support for efforts by the UN, Egypt and other countries to achieve de-escalation in the region.

On Sunday, seven Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed in an undercover Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.

Since March, more than 200 Palestinians have been martyred and thousands more injured by Israeli army fire during protests demanding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral home in what is now Israel.

Germany receives recordings on Khashoggi from Turkey

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German government has confirmed intelligence sharing between Turkey and Germany about the recordings of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Asked about recent media reports over the weekend, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman confirmed that they have received information from Turkey.

“I can tell you that there has been an exchange of intelligence service information on that,” Steffen Seibert told a regular news conference, but declined to give any further details.

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara shared the recordings related to the murder of Khashoggi with Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

After weeks of denying involvement, the kingdom admitted that Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate but claimed that the Saudi royal family had no prior knowledge of a plot to murder him.

So far, 18 people, including security officers, have been arrested in Saudi Arabia in connection with the murder.

Germany: Jewish leader slams attacks against mosques

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – A prominent German Jewish leader on Friday expressed alarm over growing intolerance and violence against religious minorities, immigrants and asylum seekers in the country.

“It’s a scandal that more and more mosques are vandalized by hate slogans or attacked on a massive scale,” said Josef Schuster, head of Germany's Central Council of Jews.

He made the remarks at a ceremony held in a Berlin synagogue, marking the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms in 1938.

Schuster expressed concern over the rise in xenophobic attacks in recent years, which often targeted Jews, Muslims, immigrants and refugees.

“Such things happening in Germany in 2018 are a shame for our country,” he said.

Schuster accused the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) for inciting hatred against asylum seekers and Muslims.

“They are the spiritual arsonists,” he said.

Germany has witnessed growing Islamophobia and hatred of migrants in recent years triggered by a propaganda from far-right and populist parties, which have exploited fears over the refugee crisis and terrorism.

Some 950 Muslims and Muslim institutions were attacked in 2017, according to the official figures.

At least 33 Muslims were injured in these attacks, which included assaults against Muslim women wearing headscarves and attacks against mosques and other Muslim institutions.

Germany urges quick completion of Khashoggi probe

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Germany has renewed its call on Saudi Arabia to complete the investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi “as soon as possible.”

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Adebahr said many questions remained unanswered.

“As Foreign Minister Heiko Maas explicitly said earlier this week, we are demanding a full clarification of the incident,” she said.

“We will continue our efforts to see this,” she added.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

After weeks of denying involvement, the kingdom admitted that Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate but claimed that the Saudi royal family had no prior knowledge of a plot to murder him.

So far, 18 people, including security officers, have been arrested in Saudi Arabia in connection with the murder.

Last week, Turkish prosecutors announced their preliminary findings, saying Khashoggi was strangled to death in a premeditated killing soon after he entered the consulate.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said Khashoggi's body was disposed of after being dismembered.

Saudi authorities have so far claimed that they do not know the whereabouts of his remains.

Muslims in Xinjiang face repression: German parliament

BERLIN (AA) – Government and opposition lawmakers urged China on Thursday to end repressive policies against Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region of the country.

The opposition Green Party accused Chinese authorities of severe human rights violations, forced political indoctrination and massive surveillance in the region.

“An estimated one million people have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region,” Green lawmaker Margarete Bause said during a parliamentary debate on the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

She heavily criticized authorities for their clampdown on freedom of religion.

“Praying is prohibited, mosques are demolished. The goal of all these measures is to systematically eliminate the culture and identity of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang,” she said.

Stefan Liebich from the opposition Left Party said the detention of around one million people in internment camps in Xinjiang was “unacceptable”.

Liebich acknowledged that China’s concerns over stability and the threat of terrorism were understandable.

“But these cannot justify mass surveillance, spying, internment camps and torture,” he stressed.

Michael Brand, a senior lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, promised that the government would continue to raise human rights issues in talks with Chinese officials.

“Under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, brutal repression and human rights violations continue in Xinjiang,” he said.

Brand criticized Chinese authorities for claiming that the internment camps were in fact “vocational education centers” and stressed that such explanations were far from being plausible.

Chancellor Merkel’s coalition partner the Social Democrat Party (SPD) backed calls on China to close the camps.

“When we read the reports of Human Rights Watch, we get the impression that Xinjiang has become an open-air prison,” SPD lawmaker Frank Schwabe said.

“We want full transparency. We want to have the opportunity for all UN bodies to be able to visit Xinjiang. We are calling on China to close these camps,” he added.

Alarming rise in prejudice against Muslims in Germany

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA)- Prejudice against Muslims, migrants and asylum seekers have significantly increased in Germany, according to a new study by the Leipzig University.

Almost 55 percent of Germans claimed they felt like foreigners in their own country because of large numbers of Muslims. In 2010, before the refugee crisis, 33 percent of the respondents shared this view.

The research has also revealed that xenophobia was becoming increasingly widespread throughout Germany.

Around 36 percent of respondents said they consider Germany to be dangerously swamped by foreigners.

More than a quarter of them said they believe foreigners should be send back to their home countries if there were a shortage of jobs in Germany.

Professor Elmar Braehler, who conducted the research together with Dr. Oliver Decker said, xenophobia and prejudices against Muslims were fueling the surge of far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

“People with far-right views are now turning away from the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party[…] and finding a new home in the AfD,” he said.

Adopting an explicitly anti-Islamic rhetoric, the AfD argued that the country was under the threat of “Islamization”, especially after nearly one million refugees — mostly from Syria and Iraq — arrived in the country since 2015.

Germany, a country of over 81 million people, has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Among the country’s nearly 4.7 million Muslims, 3 million are of Turkish origin.

In recent years, the country has seen growing Islamophobia and hatred of migrants triggered by propaganda from far-right and populist parties, which have exploited fears over the refugee crisis and terrorism.

Germany: Merkel's ally enters race for party leadership

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA)- A conservative ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has entered the race on Wednesday to become the next leader of Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with a pledge to regain the confidence of citizens.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was appointed as secretary general of the CDU earlier this year by Merkel, said if elected as party chair in December, she would give priority to domestic security issues.

“In my view, one of the major issues we must address in the coming months is the question how we can better achieve security, how we can restore trust to the state and its institutions,” she said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer also underlined the importance of EU-wide solutions to the problems of security and organized crime.

Chancellor Merkel, who led the CDU for 18 years, announced last week that she will not run for the chair again, but underlined that she wanted to remain chancellor until her term ends in 2021.

Merkel’s critics blamed her liberal refugee policy for the party’s heavy losses in the regional polls.

Christian Democrats will elect their new chair at an upcoming party conference in December in Hamburg.