September 11, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

GERMANY

Riding the Tailwinds

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been racking up electoral gains lately, and many expect more to come.

The political party – founded in 2013 amid the Eurozone financial crisis and on the cusp of Europe’s foreign migrant crisis – scored strong finishes in elections in two eastern states recently.

In Saxony, the party came in second to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union late last month but tripled its share of the vote compared to five years ago, the Washington Times reported. The Christian Democrats lost 7 percent in the same period.

In Brandenburg, the Social Democratic Party came in first but lost 5 percent of the vote compared to five years ago. The AfD, meanwhile, doubled its share.

The AfD managed to win seats in the German parliament in 2017. It now has seats in 14 out of 16 state legislatures. Saxony and Brandenburg are in the former East Germany, however, where the party’s anti-immigrant, nationalist appeal is strongest among voters who feel that mainstream parties haven’t improved their economic situation since the fall of communism.

“Both mainstream parties, the CDU and SPD, keep shrinking,” Duisburg University political scientist Karl-Rudolf Korte told Agence France-Presse. “AfD voters dominate in the east, not the west, as we previously saw in national and European elections. The AfD has become part of everyday life in the east.”

Illustrating the situation, the Atlantic magazine recently featured a dispute in Saxony over a park called Wilhelmsplatz in Görlitz, a picturesque city on the Polish border. Homeowners on the edge of the park have been complaining of the kids, noise, music and other ruckuses coming from parkgoers. Many appeared to blame the city’s “small community of refugees and immigrants.”

Meanwhile, Politico wrote about an AfD politician in Brandenburg who stood with neo-Nazis while attending an ultranationalist rally in Athens in 2007.

The AfD might never wield real power. The Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats (SPD) and every other party in Germany have sworn not to join a coalition with them.

Moreover, Merkel and her grand coalition with the SPD will likely weather the AfD threat, wrote Brookings Institution fellow Constanze Stelzenmüller in the Washington Post.

But Stelzenmüller noted that Merkel and other mainstream leaders face yet another test on Oct. 27 when the eastern German state of Thuringia holds elections. The leader of the AfD’s radical wing, Björn Höcke, is the front man for the party’s campaign there. The party is expected to do very well.

Höcke could come in second place and still beat his chest. He has momentum behind him.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Under Pressure

North Korea launched at least two projectiles toward its east coast Tuesday, hours after it offered to resume nuclear talks with the United States.

The country’s recent launches and demands are aimed at pressuring US President Donald Trump to make new concessions when talks between the nuclear powers restart, the Associated Press reported.

North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, said Monday that her nation was willing to resume talks in late September, but warned that if the new proposals weren’t satisfactory, the negotiations would collapse.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants the removal of US-led sanctions on the country’s ailing economy in return for limited steps toward denuclearization.

In February, the leaders failed to reach an agreement during a summit in Vietnam. They met again at the Korean border in late June and agreed to restart talks.

Tuesday’s launches were the eighth since late July. Prior launches revealed that Pyongyang has short range missiles and rocket artillery systems that could strike targets throughout South Korea, including US military bases there.

RWANDA

A Helping Hand

Rwanda agreed on Tuesday to take in hundreds of African refugees and asylum-seekers held in detention centers in Libya, a move that has been hailed as an example of African governments taking initiative to solve the continent’s problems.

The agreement signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, comes after repeated allegations that migrants were living in dire conditions in the Libyan detention centers, Al Jazeera reported.

Rwanda will receive the first group of 500 people predominantly from the Horn of Africa in the coming weeks, but is prepared to host as many as 30,000 Africans currently in Libya.

Since the ouster of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a major transit route for African refugees trying to reach Europe by boat.

Officials from the African Union hailed the deal and hope other African countries will offer similar assistance – though none has come forward so far.

“It is a historical moment because Africans are extending their hands to other Africans,” said Amira Elfadil, the African Union’s social affairs commissioner.

ISRAEL

If You Vote for Me…

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday to annex part of the West Bank if he is reelected next week.

“If I receive from you, citizens of Israel, a clear mandate to do so… today I announce my intention to apply with the formation of the next government Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea,” he said during a televised speech, the BBC reported.

His pledge was criticized by Palestinian officials, who called Netanyahu a “prime destroyer of the peace process.”

Netanyahu’s statements come as his right-wing Likud party is campaigning ahead of general elections Tuesday. The party hopes to gain support from other right-wing parties.

It’s the second election this year: Netanyahu failed to form a coalition after elections in April.

At the same time, he’s also facing three corruption investigations. He has denied all charges.

DISCOVERIES

When Two Heads Aren’t Better

Last week, conservationists discovered rare mutant specimens of two different reptile species, each with two heads.

In New Jersey, conservationists from the Herpetological Associates of Burlington County found what they believe to be the first two-headed timber rattlesnake in the state, Fox News reported.

The group said that the snake has two brains and each head acts on its own, which makes life more complicated for the reptile.

Two-headed snakes cannot survive long in the wild: The rare genetic mutation makes it difficult for them to hunt prey.

“Snakes operate a good deal by smell, and if one head catches the scent of prey on the other’s head, it will attack and try to swallow the second head,” according to National Geographic.

Meanwhile in South Carolina, another conservationist group found a two-headed baby loggerhead turtle trying to catch up with its brothers and sisters.

The group explained that double-headed mutations are more common in reptiles than other species, which might explain the double coincidence.

Similar to the snake, the turtle’s chances of survival are also low.

It seems the old saying “two heads are better than one” doesn’t really apply to reptiles.