Merkel says Islamist terrorism is biggest test for Germany
Islamist terrorism is the biggest test facing Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday in a New Year's address to the nation and vowed to introduce laws that improve security after a deadly attack before Christmas in Berlin.
Merkel, seeking a fourth term as chancellor in 2017, described 2016 as a year that gave many the impression that the world had "turned upside down". She urged Germans to shun populism and said Germany should take a leading role in addressing the many challenges facing the European Union.
"Many attach to 2016 the feeling that the world had turned upside down or that what for long had been held as an achievement is now being questioned. The European Union for example," Merkel said. "Or equally parliamentary democracy, which allegedly is not caring for the interests of the citizens but is only serving the interests of a few. What a distortion," she said in a veiled reference to claims by the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) that is stealing votes from her conservatives.
Ahead of the 2017 election, polls put her conservative bloc well ahead of rivals, but a fractured electoral landscape risks complicating the coalition arithmetic.
"Election year 2017: For Merkel, nothing is certain any more", ran a headline in Saturday's edition of mass-selling daily Bild. The paper wrote that for an increasing number of voters the chancellor, 62, no longer appeared unassailable.
Liberals across the Atlantic have hailed Merkel as an anchor of stability and reason in a year that saw Donald Trump elected as U.S. president, Britain vote to leave the EU and U.S-Russia relations deteriorate to Cold War levels.
In her address, Merkel compared Brexit to a "deep incision" and said that even though the EU was "slow and arduous", its member states should focus on common interests that transcend national benefits.
Berlin attack: an overview in pictures
City in shock: on Tuesday morning, just hours after a truck ploughed into a Christmas market in the heart of the city, candles and roses had been laid near the entrance of a nearby station. Security forces are patrolling trains and train stations, police are on high alert in Berlin as flags fly at half-mast. Streets in the area of the incident remain closed off, and buses have been re-routed
Heightened police presence: Berlin's police office and attorney general have taken over the investigation. The federal prosecutor has also launched preliminary proceedings into the incident. Investigators last night asked the public via social media not to go to the scene of the crime or spread false news
Clean-up efforts: "Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was deliberately steered into the crowd at the Christmas market," police said on Twitter. The truck has meanwhile been towed and taken in for a forensic examination. Police are investigating leads that the vehicle may have been stolen from a construction site in Poland
Where it took place: Breitscheidplatz, the square in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, is a popular tourist destination. To the northeast of Breitscheidplatz is the Berlin Bahnhof Zoo, and to the south is the famous Kurfurstendamm shopping street
What happened: a truck drove straight into a crowded Christmas market in a popular shopping area in Berlin late Monday evening. This image is reminiscent of a similar attack in Nice last July, in which 86 people were killed when a man drove a truck through a crowd. In response to the Berlin tragedy, France has beefed up security at its own Christmas markets
The victims: police have confirmed 12 deaths so far. At least 50 people were injured, some seriously. Rescue workers set up emergency tents on site. The university hospital Charite was ready to accept the injured, according to Berlin Mayor Michael Muller
Searching for suspects: police initially detained a 23-year-old asylum-seeker from Pakistan in connection with the truck attack. Authorities released him on Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence. Berlin police admitted they may have apprehended the wrong suspect. The driver of the truck is believed to be at large. Authorities said one or more fugitives were likely armed and dangerous
'This was a terrorist attack': condolences have been pouring in from all over the world. "A country is united in mourning," Chancellor Angela Merkel told the nation on Tuesday morning. Calling it a terrorist attack for the first time, Merkel described the incident as "cruel and beyond comprehension″
"And, yes, Europe should focus on what can really be better than the national state," Merkel said. "But we Germans should never be led to believe that each could have a better future by going it alone."
She was alluding again to the populist AfD, which wants Germany to leave the EU and shut its borders to asylum seekers, more than one million of whom arrived in the country this year and last.
The record number of migrants has hurt Merkel's popularity and fuelled support for the AfD, which says Islam is incompatible with the German constitution. But her conservatives are still expected to win the general election in nine months.
Merkel has made security the main election platform for her Christian Democrats (CDU). In her speech, she said the government would introduce measures to improve security after a failed Tunisian asylum seeker drove a truck into a Christmas market in the capital on 19 December, killing 12 people in the name of Islamic State.
He was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on 23 December and investigators are trying to determine whether he had accomplices. (Reuters)
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