View gallery Walter Shapiro 12 hours ago PoliticsBarack ObamaSyriaUnited States Congress President Barack Obama, according to background briefings by his aides, reached a fateful decision late Friday afternoon as he strolled along the White House lawn with his chief of staff Denis McDonough. Contrary to every expectation by his national security team, Obama concluded that he should ask Congress for authorization to bomb Syria.The full reasoning behind the president’s turnabout remains murky. He may have wanted to share responsibility for a risky strategy to punish the barbarous regime of Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people. Obama may have recognized the political dangers of attacking another Middle Eastern country without popular support at home.And the president, a former part-time constitutional law professor, may have also belatedly recalled the wording of Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution that grants Congress the sole power “to declare war.”But whatever Obama’s underlying motivations and however the Syrian vote plays out on Capitol Hill, the president’s decision to go to Congress represents an historic turning point. It may well be the most important presidential act on the Constitution and war-making powers since Harry Truman decided to sidestep Congress and not seek their backing to launch the Korean war.Just a few days ago, before Obama’s decision was known, legal scholars from both the right and the left were in agreement that waging war over Syria – no matter how briefly – without congressional approval would bend the Constitution beyond recognition.Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served as a Bush administration lawyer during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, wrote in the legal blog Lawfare, “The planned use of military force in Syria is a constitutional stretch that will push presidential war unilateralism beyond where it has gone before.” And liberal constitutional scholar Garrett Epps, writing for the Atlantic , concluded, “It’s pretty clear that an American attack would violate the Constitution.”Virtually no one in politics, the press or the academic community expected Obama to go to Congress for approval. That isn’t the way the presidential power works in the modern era. It is a sad truth that whomever occupies the Oval Office invariably expands rather than trims back the Imperial Presidency. Obama himself has reflected this pattern with his aggressive enhancement of the National Security Agency’s efforts to monitor electronic communications.For more than six decades, the war-making powers of Congress have been eviscerated by presidents of both parties.Which brings us back to Truman, who in 1950 balked at asking a Congress weary after World War Two for approval to militarily respond to the Communist attack on South Korea. Dean Acheson, Truman’s secretary of state, claimed in his memoirs that a congressional debate over the Korean War “would hardly be calculated to support the shaken morale of the troops or the unity that, for the moment, prevailed at home.”Acheson may not have remembered that military morale and national unity are not mentioned in the Constitution. But the war-marking powers of Congress are at the heart of the nation’s founding document. It was as if the sign on Truman’s desk read, “The Buck Stops Here – And This is Also Where the Constitution Is Twisted.”View gallery.”March 8, 2005 – A Syrian soldier riding on top of a tank gestures after leaving his position, in Dah …The plain-spoken Truman resorted to weaselly words to claim that Korea was a United Nations-sponsored “police action” rather than a war. No other American “police action” has ever led to 54,246 wartime deaths.Truman’s assertion of vast executive power as Commander in Chief set a template for future presidents. Even when presidents have gone to Congress for approval of major military engagements, these blank-check authorizations have often been based on deceptive arguments.Lyndon Johnson premised the entire Vietnam war on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was designed to permit a limited response to two minor and maybe mythical naval skirmishes with North Vietnam. Similarly hyperbolic were George W. Bush’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.Even more legally dubious were all the times a president sent troops and planes into combat without anything more than desultory briefings of the congressional leadership.Ronald Reagan dispatched the Marines into Grenada in 1983 under the preposterous rationale that he was only protecting endangered American medial students. Bill Clinton skirted congressional approval for the 1999 airborne attacks to halt Serbia’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo on the shaky grounds that this was a NATO operation. And Obama himself was even on flimsier footing when he justified America’s participation in the 2011 bombing campaign over Libya based on a United Nations resolution.But Syria did not provide Obama with any of these fig-leaf justifications.No American lives are in danger and the national security threat is hard to identify. Not only is NATO not participating, but also neither are the Brits, the United State’s closest diplomatic ally. With Russia serving as Assad’s enabler, there will be no Security Council resolution or UN mandate.Every time a president employs questionable legal arguments to wage war, it becomes a valuable tool for the next Commander in Chief impatient with the constitutional requirement to work through Congress. That’s why it would have been so dangerous for Obama to go forward in Syria without a congressional vote or the support of the UN or NATO. It is as much of a slippery slope argument as the contention that Iran, say, would be emboldened with its nuclear program if America did not punish Assad’s chemical attacks.Assuming Obama wins congressional approval, America’s coming attack on Syria is designed to set a lasting precedent: No government can ever again use chemical, biological – let alone nuclear – weapons without facing devastating consequences. As Obama asked rhetorically in his Saturday Rose Garden statement, “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”But Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval may prove to be an even more important precedent. Future presidents – as they consider unilateral military action without American security hanging in the balance – will have to answer, “Why didn’t you go to Congress like Obama did over Syria?”Confronted with a series of wrenching choices over Syria, Obama chose the course that best reflects fidelity to the Constitution as written. Hopefully, in the days ahead, taking that less traveled road by presidents will make all the difference.
Exclusive: USS Nimitz carrier group rerouted for possible help with SyriaAndrea Shalal-Esa 2 hours agoView galleryThe USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier which is currently supplemented by biofuel, sails By Andrea Shalal-Esa WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its strike group are heading west toward the Red Sea to help support a limited U.S. strike on Syria, if needed, defense officials said on Sunday.The Nimitz carrier strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but is moving west in the Arabian Sea so it can do so if asked.”It’s about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed,” said the official.”We try to reduce the physics of time and space so we can be as ready as possible should we be needed,” said a second official, cautioning that decisions about ship positioning in the Mediterranean were still being finalized.President Barack Obama on Saturday delayed imminent cruise missile strikes by five destroyers off the coast of Syria until Congress had time to vote on the issue, effectively putting any military action on hold for at least nine days.The delay gives military planners more time to reassess which ships and other weapons will be kept in the region – and which may be swapped out – before the military launches what defense officials say is still intended to be a limited and narrowly targeted attack on Syria.The U.S. Navy doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean over the past week, effectively adding two destroyers to the three that generally patrol the region.The destroyers are carrying a combined load of about 200 Tomahawk missiles, but officials say a limited strike on Syria could be accomplished with half that number.The Nimitz carrier group had been in the Indian Ocean supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan but was due to sail east around Asia to return to its home port in Everett, Washington, after being relieved in recent days by another aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman.Given the situation in Syria, U.S. military officials decided to reroute the Nimitz and send it west toward the Red Sea, and possibly the Mediterranean, officials said.The Navy has also sent the USS San Antonio, an amphibious ship carrying 300 Marines and extensive communications equipment, to join the destroyers, diverting it from a different mission that would have taken it farther west.A second official said the San Antonio could serve as an afloat forward staging base, providing a temporary base for special operations forces, if they were needed. It could also assist with non-military evacuations.A spokesman for the ship declined comment, referring questions to the Navy. Lieutenant Adam Cole, spokesman for the Navy’s European headquarters, declined to discuss any specific plans for the San Antonio or future ship movements.Decisions about Navy ship positioning will be made in coming days, based on military needs, maintenance issues and staffing requirements, officials said, noting that the delay in a strike on Syria had sent planners back to the drawing board.The USS Kearsarge, a large-deck amphibious ship that is part of a readiness group with the San Antonio, is also on the way toward the Red Sea after a port call in the United Arab Emirates, officials said. No further specific orders had been issued to the ship, they said.The Kearsarge, which carries 6 AV-8B Harriers, 10-12 V-22 Ospreys and helicopters, played a key role in the 2011 strikes on Libya. Two Ospreys launched from the ship helped rescue a downed F-15 pilot during that operation.(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Peter Cooney and Philip Barbara)
Arabs urge UN, world to take ‘deterrent’ steps on SyriaView gallery 6 hours ago PoliticsUnited StatesDamascusSyria Arab League foreign ministers on Sunday urged the United Nations and the international community to take „deterrent” action against the Syrian regime over alleged chemical attacks near Damascus.But they fell short of calling for military strikes as proposed by the United States, amid divisions in Arab ranks with several countries opposed to foreign intervention in Syria.”The United Nations and the international community are called upon to assume their responsibilities in line with the UN Charter and international law by taking the necessary deterrent measures” following the August 21 suspected chemical attacks, they said in a statement.The ministers, meeting in Cairo, said the Syrian regime was „responsible” for the attacks which the United States says killed hundreds of people with the use of sarin gas.US President Barack Obama said he will seek congressional approval to launch a punitive strike on the regime in Damascus over last month’s attacks in suburbs of the Syrian capital.View gallery.”The empty chair of the Syrian representative is displayed during a meeting of the Arab League on Sep …UN chemical weapons inspectors have carried out a probe in the suspected sites and collected samples which will be sent to European laboratories from Monday.The UN has refused to announce its timeline for finishing the analysis.”We have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in East Damascus, (that) hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.The Arab foreign ministers said those responsible for unleashing the poison gas in Syria must be tried before an international court „like other war criminals.”They also called for „all forms of support needed by the Syrian people” but without explicitly calling for military strikes as proposed by the United States and France.
US swimmer Nyad, 64, forges on with Cuba-Florida crossing View galleryUS swimmer Diana Nyad jumps into the water at the Ernest Hemingway Nautical Club, in Havana on August 31, 2013. Legendary US distance swimmer Nyad forged ahead Sunday with her quest to become the first person to cross from Cuba to Florida with no shark cage. (AFP Photo/Yamil Lage)7 hours ago Legendary US distance swimmer Diana Nyad forged ahead Sunday with her quest to become the first person to cross from Cuba to Florida with no shark cage.In a display of endurance and spirit, the 64-year-old actually increased her speed after more than 24 hours in the water, her team said.”Diana has swum 47.61 statute miles after 27 hours of swimming. Her average speed has increased to 1.76 miles per hour,” her navigator John Bartlett said at 1600 GMT.”She is swimming strong and riding the swells which are 3 to 5 feet out of the east behind her,” he said in a posting on Nyad’s website.”She is getting a little favorable push from the current right now.”Nyad set off from Cuba Saturday in her fifth and final bid to swim across the perilous Florida Straits without the protection of a shark cage, hoping to make the roughly 170 kilometer (106 mile) trek in 80 hours.She has this would be the „last time” she would attempt to make her decades-old dream come true.Last August, Nyad broke off her fourth bid to cross the stretch after battling lightning storms and swarms of jellyfish for more than two days.Her first attempt was in 1978, when she was 28.Nyad set an open sea record for both men and women by swimming from the Bahamas to the Florida Keys in 1979 — a journey that is the about the same distance as the Cuba-Florida swim, but which she has described as far less dangerous.At a news conference Friday, the veteran swimmer expressed confidence that she would persevere this time around.Not only was she hopeful that the weather and currents in the Gulf of Mexico would be better, she noted that she had a full-body suit — including a mouth guard, gloves and shoes — to protect herself from jelly fish.She added that her dream of 35 years also sought to bring communist Cuba and the United States — which have been at odds for decades — closer together.Nyad is accompanied by a 36-member team and several yachts and kayaks.Australian Susan Maroney is the first and only person who has managed to swim across the Florida Straits. Protected by a shark cage, she did so in 1997 when she was 22.
Serbia’s Djokovic opposes Syria military actionView gallery Dave James 43 minutes ago Novak Djokovic, the world’s top tennis player who grew up in Belgrade as NATO air strikes blasted the Serbian capital in 1999, hit out at US plans to take military action against Syria.Serb star Djokovic as well as former women’s number one Ana Ivanovic both vividly recall sheltering from the attacks that were launched against the rule of Serb hardman leader Slobodan Milosevic.Djokovic, 26, said Sunday that any attack against Syria would be ill-advised and counter-productive.”I’m totally against any kind of weapon, any kind of air strike, missile attack. I’m totally against anything that is destructive because I had this personal experience, I know it cannot bring any good to anybody,” said Djokovic.”Those particular times that me and my fellow countrymen and colleagues from Serbia have been through is a period of life that we don’t wish anybody to experience. The war is the worst thing in life for humanity. Nobody really wins.Djokovic was only 12 when NATO unleashed its firestorm, although his sporting talents allowed him to eventually quit Serbia for Germany to enroll in a tennis academy.”It made us stronger, those two and a half months. We looked at it on the bright side. We were kids. We were only 12 years old. So we thought, OK, now we’re not obliged to go to school, we can play more tennis,” he said.”So we spent the whole day basically every day for two months on the tennis courts with the planes flying over our heads. After a week or two of the bombings, we just kind of moved on with our lives.”We did everything we could and what we wanted. We just let life decide for us.”World number one Djokovic, a six-time Grand Slam title winner, added: „It was not in our control. We were helpless basically. Luckily we all survived, and we take this kind of experience and this particular situation from our past as a great lesson in life.”View gallery.”Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic returns a shot to Christina McHale during their US Open match in New York on A …Ivanovic, a former women’s number one and past French Open champion, has often recalled the 78-day bombing campaign that forced her and her friends to play tennis in a derelict swimming pool.”The pool was old, leaking and too expensive to heat, so they emptied it, put carpet inside and made two tennis courts,” she said.”It was impossible to play crosscourt. We had to keep playing down the lines.”During the crisis, flights in and out of Belgrade were suspended as she and her parents had to make a seven-hour car journey to Hungary in order to fly to international tournaments.
Mandela back home after long hospital stayView gallery Sibongile Khumalo 1 hour ago Health Nelson Mandela spent a first night back home after being discharged from hospital Sunday, but the South African government said the anti-apartheid hero remains critically ill and under intensive care.The former president had been in a Pretoria hospital for almost three months, spending his 95th birthday there as he received intensive treatment for a respiratory illness.The presidency said in a statement that he „remains critical and is at times unstable” and will be looked after by the same team of intensive care doctors at his Johannesburg home.”If there are health conditions that warrant another admission to hospital in future, this will be done,” the presidency said.An ambulance with police escort was seen arriving at his suburban home, north of Johannesburg, shortly after 0900 GMT Sunday.Mandela’s family expressed joy at his return.”It is a day of celebration for us that he is finally back home with us,” said grandson Mandla Mandela, thanking South Africans and people around the world for their outpouring of support.The ruling African National Congress (ANC) expressed faith in the medical team treating Mandela, saying they believe that „receiving treatment at home will afford him continuous support from his family and loved ones”.For 86 days South Africans have scrutinised every update about the health of their first black president, whether he was living or dying with each sign of progress or each setback.View gallery.”South African former President Nelson Mandela waves as he arrives at a polling station in Johannesbu …Separated by deep racial and economic divisions, millions have united in praying for a speedy recovery of a man who for many embodies the best their nation can be.There are still lingering concerns about the health of an elderly man who has been in and out of hospital four times in the last year.But for now, most people were content to focus on a bit of good news.Ordinary South Africans breathed a sigh of relief at the news of Mandela’s return.”The old man is a fighter, I knew that he was going to pull through,” said Steven Moloto from Pretoria.”Mandela is like a symbol of peace in this country. I was very worried when he was in hospital,” he added.Johannesburg resident Nadine Foster said it was „good news for the rest of the country.””Mandela means a lot to all of us…. I’m relieved,” she said.President Jacob Zuma’s office promised that the revered statesman will continue to receive top-class care and will be treated by „a large medical team from the military, academia, private sector and other public health spheres.”View gallery.”File picture shows Nelson Mandela gives a news conference in Johannesburg in June 2005. Mandela was …A spokesman for former US president George H.W. Bush apologised on Sunday after erroneously issuing a statement of condolence stating that Mandela had died.Bush spokesman Jim McGrath later explained that he circulated a prepared statement expressing Bush’s sorrow at the „death” of the former South African president after misreading a Washington Post news alert about Mandela’s discharge from hospital.Mandela has faced several health scares in recent years and his lung problems that date back to his 27 years in apartheid jail.Madiba, his clan name by which he is lovingly known in the country, has been in and out of hospital since last year, with lung-related complications.”Despite the difficulties imposed by his various illnesses, he, as always, displays immense grace and fortitude,” according to Zuma’s office.In December, he spent nearly three weeks in hospital where he was treated for a lung infection and gall stones.His latest hospitalisation has been his longest since he walked free from jail in 1990 and went on to become the country’s first leader to be elected in all-race elections.Speculation has arisen often as few details have been released about his condition, which has been largely described as „critical but stable” and updates on his health have been infrequent.In June, the beloved leader was said to be on life support but has recently been reported to be breathing on his own.Family members including his wife Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela have been visiting his bedside since his admission.Mandela retired from public life in 2004, and has spent his time between his rural home in the Eastern Cape region and Johannesburg.
African Union wants Brotherhood in Egypt roadmapView gallery Jay Deshmukh 4 hours ago SocietyMuslim BrotherhoodEgyptMohamed Morsi A top African Union official said Sunday the Muslim Brotherhood must join the political roadmap proposed by Egypt’s new authorities, in a bid to end the violence rocking the country.Diletta Mohamed Diletta, former premier of Djibouti and member of an African Union panel currently in Egypt to assess the situation in the country, told AFP it was „important and necessary” that the Brotherhood joins the nation’s political process.”We need to keep negotiating and make it (Brotherhood) understand that it needs to be on board” in implementing the roadmap detailed by the new authorities after the military’s ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.The transition plan, set up by Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour, would see fresh parliamentary elections in the coming months, with a presidential vote possible by early next year. The Brotherhood has rejected the plan.On Sunday Mansour announced a 50-member panel to draw up a revised constitution but without the inclusion of ousted Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood which declined to take part.The African Union suspended Egypt’s membership after Morsi’s ouster but the delegation visiting Cairo for talks with political and civil groups is expected to make its recommendations on whether the suspension should be maintained or withdrawn.View gallery.”A woman sprays water on a fellow protester to ease the effects of tear gas during clashes in Cairo o …Diletta said the three-member delegation was „assessing the situation and has talked to the Muslim Brotherhood so it can join the implementation of the roadmap.””There may be divergent views but nobody rejects” the Brotherhood’s participation in the political roadmap, Diletta said.”We are trying to encourage them to join in. We met their representatives. The situation has not changed as many of their leaders are in prison,” he said.The new Egyptian authorities launched a massive crackdown the Brotherhood and has arrested its top leaders.Morsi himself is also detained and on Sunday state television said he will stand trial for „inciting murder.”Diletta said representatives of the Brotherhood made several complaints during talks with the African Union delegation.View gallery.”A picture taken on March 26, 2013 shows ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi attending an Arab Le …”They want their people released, television channels restarted. They say they are the victims and are being attacked. These are their claims. We are telling them to make concessions in order to move forward.”They must realise that the previous situation (reinstating Morsi) can’t return. They have to be ready for dialogue.”Diletta said Egypt’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the delegation that Morsi’s ouster was the result of an appeal made by the people.Dilletta said there was a general desire in Egypt to have the Brotherhood take part in political talks with other sectors of society and the government.”At no moment or level we have seen any official or civil society member rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.”So it is clear that the ball is in the court of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is up to them whether they want to go underground or participate in the political future of Egypt.”Dilletta said the African Union was keen that violence in Egypt ends and „people talk to each other.””Egypt must find its place in Africa but to arrive at that the two groups — authorities and their allies and the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies have to reconcile and sit together and talk.”
Anatomy of a potential Syria military operation: Weapons targets defensesView gallery18 photos August 31, 2013 A confrontation between the U.S. and Syria appeared closer after President Barack Obama asked for congressional authority to attack the Syrian military. Administration officials said Syrian commanders loyal to President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to kill about 1,500 Syrians and rebels on Aug. 21.
German candidates clash on euro and taxes in tight TV duelNoah Barkin and Stephen Brown 6 hours ago PoliticsBudget, Tax & EconomyGermanyView gallery People watch a TV duel of German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) By Noah Barkin and Stephen Brown BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat challenger in this month’s German election clashed over the euro, tax policy and U.S. spying in a television debate on Sunday that produced no clear winner.The only TV duel of the campaign, watched by an estimated 15 million viewers, was one of SPD candidate Peer Steinbrueck’s last chances to change the momentum in a race in which he has trailed the popular Merkel from the very start.He accused the conservative chancellor, who is seeking a third term in the September 22 vote, of crushing southern European countries with austerity, failing to properly manage an exit from nuclear energy and overseeing a rise in low wage jobs.”For four years we have been at a standstill. I want to change this,” Steinbrueck said.Merkel, 59, said SPD plans to raise taxes would put Germany’s prosperity at risk, and noted that Steinbrueck’s party had supported her euro policies throughout the crisis. Smiling, she turned to him and said: „You voted for everything.”Dressed in black, both candidates appeared relaxed, made no obvious gaffes and appeared to have good grasp of the issues.Merkel, wearing a twisty necklace in the colors of the German flag, turned often to speak directly to her challenger, while Steinbrueck stared straight ahead at the panel of four questioners, which included cult talk show host Stefan Raab.A poll by Infratest Dimap conducted after the debate gave Steinbrueck the edge, with 49 percent of respondents saying he won and 44 percent backing Merkel. Another poll by Forsa put Merkel slightly ahead, 44 versus 43 percent.The 66-year-old former finance minister is known for his quick wit, but also for a know-it-all tone that can make him seem arrogant. His challenge in the debate was to criticize Merkel’s policies without appearing overly aggressive, and in that he largely succeeded.”Steinbrueck may have added a few points,” said political scientist Juergen Falter. „The question is whether it is enough to mobilize voters for the SPD.”DEADLY DOSE–Some of the sharpest clashes came on the subject of Europe, a topic that had played only a small role in the campaign until a debate flared late last month over whether Greece might require a third bailout after the German vote.Steinbrueck dismissed Merkel’s European policy as a „failure” because of continued recession and sky-high unemployment in the southern euro countries that have had to swallow deep spending cuts in exchange for bailouts.”I would have followed a different crisis strategy. Of course there must be budget consolidation in these countries, but not a deadly dose,” Steinbrueck said.”Germany once got help too and we must not forget that,” he said. „Germany was massively helped after the Second World War with the Marshall Plan.”Merkel retorted that it was under SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that Greece had been allowed to join the euro in the first place.”As chancellor I have a responsibility to ensure the reform pressure on Greece does not let up,” she said. „There could be a new Greek package but nobody knows how big it will be.”With three weeks to go until the vote, a survey from Emnid published on Sunday showed Merkel’s conservative bloc — the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) — with a 16 point lead over Steinbrueck’s SPD.The size of the gap means it is highly likely that Merkel will remain chancellor after the election. What is less certain is whether she will win enough votes to continue her center-right coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP).Should she fall short, she will be forced into difficult coalition talks with the SPD, with whom she ruled between 2005 and 2009. Steinbrueck was finance minister in this right-left „grand coalition”, but he has ruled out serving under Merkel a second time.FOUR GOOD YEARS–One of the reasons Steinbrueck has struggled to make a dent in Merkel’s popularity is that the German economy has performed better than its European peers during the euro crisis, with unemployment now hovering near its lowest levels since reunification in 1990.”We have had four good years for Germany and I want the next four years to be good as well,” she said.But Steinbrueck stressed that not everyone was prospering, with 7 million people earning less than the 8.50 euro per hour minimum wage that his party wants to introduce, funded by income tax increases for Germans earning above 100,000 euros annually.”The tax hike plans of the Social Democrats and the Greens bring with them the risk that we spoil the good situation that we have instead of improving it,” Merkel responded.The candidates also touched on Syria, ruling out German participation in a military intervention that would be deeply unpopular here.Steinbrueck suggested that Merkel had not reacted forcefully enough to revelations of U.S. and British surveillance which have touched a nerve in a country still haunted by domestic spying under the Nazis and East German Stasi secret police.The last two German debates, in 2009 and 2005, had little impact on the election result.But in the 2002 clash, Schroeder came from behind to win re-election after wrong-footing conservative Edmund Stoiber on his support for the looming U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.(Reporting by Noah Barkin, Stephen Brown and Sarah Marsh)
France will not attack Syria alone, PM to meet parliament leaders18 hours ago PoliticsSyriaFranceBarack ObamaView gallery France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault delivers a speech at the end the Socialist Party’s „Universite …PARIS (Reuters) – France will not launch an assault on Syria alone and will wait for U.S. Congress to decide on whether to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s government for a gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.Valls made the comments on Sunday to Europe 1 radio as pressure mounted in France for President Francois Hollande to put the question of intervention to a parliamentary vote.Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he would meet with the heads of the two houses of parliament and the opposition on Monday to discuss Syria before a scheduled parliamentary debate on Syria on Wednesday.”France can not go it alone,” Valls said. „We need a coalition.”Valls said the announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday that he would seek authorization from lawmakers before any strike created „a new situation” which meant France would have to wait „for the end of this new phase”.On Friday, Hollande said a British parliamentary vote against military action in Syria would not affect France’s will to punish Assad’s government, which it blamed for the gas attack.A BVA poll on Saturday showed most French people do not approve of military action against Syria and most do not trust Hollande to conduct such an operation.In an unexpectedly assertive move, Hollande, whose popularity has been hurt by economic gloom, sent troops this year to help Mali’s government fend off Islamist rebels, an intervention backed by two-thirds of the public.(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Louise Ireland and Alexandria Sage)
Most Spaniards back tough line on Gibraltar: poll10 hours ago PoliticsSpainView galleryThe bay of Algeciras and the Rock of Gibraltar on August 22, 2013. Most Spaniards back Madrid’s new tough …Most Spaniards back Madrid’s new tough stance against Gibraltar and nearly one in two would favour closing Spanish airspace to flights to and from the disputed British territory, a poll released Sunday showed.Fully 62.8 percent of those surveyed said the right-leaning Spanish government’s current pressure on Gibraltar was „good” or „very good”, the poll by the Real Instituto Elcano think-tank showed.Madrid disputes Britain’s three centuries of sovereignty over Gibraltar, a territory on the southern tip of Spain which measures just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles) and is home to about 30,000 people.The latest tensions between Madrid and London over the outpost began in July after Gibraltar boats dumped blocks of concrete into the sea near the territory. Gibraltar said it was creating an artificial reef that would foster fish populations.Spain said the reef would block its fishing boats and introduced stringent border checks which it said are needed to stop smuggling, creating waits of several hours for motorists trying to enter the tiny territory.Last month Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Spain was mulling a 50-euro fee to enter or leave Gibraltar, tax investigations of thousands of Gibraltarians who own property in Spain, and the closure of its airspace to planes heading to or leaving the airport in the British outpost.”The party is over,” he said in a front page interview with conservative daily newspaper ABC in what was seen as a reference to the previous Socialist government’s softer stance on the British outpost.Nearly one in two Spaniards, 48.1 percent, said they would support „very much” or „quite a lot” the closure of Spain’s airspace to flights to and from Gibraltar while 46.2 percent said they backed closing Spain’s border with Gibraltar.Spain closed the frontier crossing with Gibraltar in 1969 under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. It was fully reopened only in 1985.The strong backing for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s stance on Gibraltar comes as support for his conservative Popular Party has been hurt by a slush fund scandal that has tainted top party members, and the government’s failure to revive the economy.Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has accused the Spanish government of seeking to distract attention from the corruption scandal and the weak economy with its hard line.The survey also found that while 78.5 percent of Britons consider Gibraltar to be British, fully 70.4 percent of Spaniards consider the territory to be Spanish.But 65.7 percent of Britons said they would be „somewhat” or „not at all” concerned if Gibraltar were to become Spanish territory after they were reminded that in 1997 Britain transferred the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China.”It is evident that the more favourable reaction to Spanish sovereignty is the result of reminding respondents of the precedent of handing over Hong Kong to China, thereby qualifying their answers,” the think-tank said.”Under these conditions, the prospect of decolonisation does not appear to be so traumatic.”The survey of 1,010 people in Spain and 1,001 people in Britain was carried out August 21-26.Gibraltar overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean. Its economy is dominated by off-shore banking, Internet gambling operations and tourism.Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London says it will not do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians, who are staunchly pro-British.
Azeri authorities clamp down on dissent ahead of October vote: groupAlexei Anishchuk 4 hours ago SocietyPoliticsView gallery Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev answers questions during a news conference at Prague Castle in Prague …By Alexei Anishchuk MOSCOW (Reuters) – Azerbaijan has intensified a crackdown on activists and journalists to stifle criticism of long-term leader Ilham Aliyev before presidential elections in October, campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.Authorities in the oil-rich South Caucasus nation have arrested dozens on trumped-up charges, dispersed anti-government rallies and adopted laws curbing freedom of speech and assembly in the past 18 months, the organization said in a report.Azeri authorities could not be immediately reached for comment, but Baku has repeatedly denied abusing human rights in the past.”Prosecuting people who criticize the authorities and report on issues of public interest is a cynical and transparent attempt to stifle government critics,” HRW researcher Giorgi Gogia said.The European Union and other bodies in June accused the ex-Soviet state of tightening curbs on free expression by making defamation over the Internet a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.„TRUMPED-UP” CHARGES HRW said authorities had in particular targeted youth activists critical of the authorities on social networks.Several members of opposition youth movement NIDA were arrested earlier this year accused of plans to instigate violence during protests, and a number of journalists and rights workers were detained on fake charges, it said.”The authorities have used a range of trumped-up criminal charges, including narcotics and weapons possession, hooliganism, incitement, and treason to lock up these critics.”According to the report, Azeri authorities have also increased fines for unsanctioned protests by up to 100 times and expanded from 15 to 60 the maximum prison term for public order misdemeanors often used to jail protestors.Western powers are generally critical of Azeri human rights violations, the report said, but the reported abuse has not had a major impact on their relations with Baku.”That is perhaps due to Azerbaijan’s geostrategic importance and hydrocarbon resources,” HRW said.The mainly Muslim Caspian Sea nation, ruled by Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003, has been courted by Western powers because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.Aliyev, 51, is almost certain to win the upcoming October polls in a tightly controlled political system, despite mounting opposition from Azeris tired of his rule.Vote monitoring groups have previously criticized the democratic credential of ballots in the country over the past decade.(Reporting By Alexei Anishchuk; editing by David Evans)