An estimated 300,000 people bundled up against freezing weather for protests in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Hanover, Kassel, Dortmund, Wuppertal, Karlsruhe, Nuremberg, Erfurt, and other German cities and towns, with some placards playing on the Alternative for Germany (Afd) party’s name: “Fascism isn’t an alternative”.
The catalyst for the protests was a report on an alleged secret far-right meeting last November, where details of a plan were concocted by right-wing extremists and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to deport millions of migrants and minorities. This has led to a surge in pro-democracy marches and protests in cities across the country. The widespread anger over the report has prompted renewed calls for Germany to consider seeking a ban on the AfD. On Saturday, the Brandenburg chapter of Germany’s Greens voted at a party convention in favour of pursuing a potential ban to help prevent the rise of “a new fascist government in Germany”.
About 35,000 people gathered in Frankfurt on Saturday for a “defend democracy” march. One of the Frankfurt protest’s co-organisers, Peter Josiger, said the deportation plans discussed at the Potsdam secret meeting were “nothing less than an attack on the basis of our coexistence” and called for “an active stand against the right from the entire breadth of society”.
On Friday, a massive rally in Hamburg had to be stopped early as far more people than expected turned out. The largest protest of its sort so far, police said there were 50,000 people and organisers put the number 80,000, pointing out that the rally was called to a close before many were able to reach it.
Police estimates of crowd sizes at other protests included: 12,000 in Kassel, 7,000 each in Dortmund and Wuppertal, 20,000 in Karlsruhe, at least 10,000 in Nuremberg, about 16,000 in Halle/Saale, 5,000 in Koblenz, and several thousand in Erfurt. More protests are expected today, including in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, and Bonn.
A survey produced by Euractiv on the June European Parliament election showed a rising sentiment to the far right at the expense of all democracy leaning groups.
Von der Leyen expected to announce candidacy on 19th February
Politico reports that Ursula von der Leyen will most likely announce her candidacy for a second term as European Commission President on 19th February in Berlin, according to two people familiar with the German politician’s plans. That day, the party chairmanship of von der Leyen’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) meets in the German capital, where it is expected to officially endorse her nomination as centre-right lead candidate for the European Parliament elections in June. The CDU’s pan-European party family, the European People’s Party (EPP), will need to confirm von der Leyen’s nomination at a party congress in Bucharest on 6th-7th March. As lead candidate, von der Leyen would be spearheading the EPP’s election campaign, even though she’s not running for a seat in the European Parliament. Instead, von der Leyen would run to get re-appointed as Commission chief from 2024 to 2029 – a decision that’s being taken by EU leaders but needs to be confirmed by a vote in the European Parliament.
Nikki Haley questions Trump’s mental fitness after gaffe
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley turned a spotlight on Donald Trump’s mental fitness on Saturday, after the former president falsely accused her of failing to stop the violent assault on the US Capitol on 6th January 2021. Speaking at a campaign event days ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary election, Trump appeared to confuse Haley with then House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Haley, Trump’s top rival in the New Hampshire contest, pointed out not only was she not in charge of security at the Capitol, she was not even in office at the time. Haley told a crowd of voters in Keene, New Hampshire: “The concern I have is – I’m not saying anything derogatory, but when you’re dealing with the pressures of a Presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do it.”
In the days before next week’s New Hampshire primary, Haley, 52, has sought to highlight her age gap with Trump, 77, and President Joe Biden, 81. Critics say Trump has increasingly shown signs of aging, and the former president himself addressed the question earlier in the week. But the issue appears to have done him little harm: he remains the overwhelming favourite among Republicans nationwide. According to a poll by Suffolk University, The Boston Globe, and NBC10 Boston, Trump has a 17-point lead over Haley in New Hampshire. He enjoys 53% of the vote against Haley’s 36%. Ron DeSantis, who has practically stopped competing in the state, has less than 7%.
Trump says he will “avoid world war”
“I know Putin, I know Zelensky. I will resolve this issue before I even take office, said Donald Trump yesterday, while praising Viktor Orbán as a great European leader and assuring that he would avoid World War Three. After saying that “Joe Biden is a threat to democracy”, Trump recalled his own Presidency: “We had four fantastic years from an economic point of view: we had no inflation, we got rid of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). The next economic boom will begin on November 5, 2024.” Finally, the tycoon referred to his judicial affairs: “A President must be granted total immunity so that he can do what he thinks. I’m not saying this for myself. I hope that the Supreme Court does the right thing.”
Netanyahu rebuffs Biden
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that he “will not compromise on full Israeli control” over Gaza and that “this is contrary to a Palestinian state” – rejecting US President Joe Biden’s suggestion that creative solutions could bridge wide gaps between the leaders’ views on Palestinian statehood.
In a sign of the pressures Netanyahu’s government faces at home, thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, calling for new elections, and others demonstrated outside the prime minister’s house, joining families of the more than 100 remaining hostages held by Hamas and other militants. They fear that Israel’s military activity further endangers hostages’ lives. Netanyahu is also under heat to appease members of his right-wing ruling coalition by intensifying the war against Hamas, which governs Gaza, while contending with calls for restraint from the United States, its closest ally.
Missile attacks across the Middle East raise Gaza escalation risks
Missile attacks in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen on Saturday threw into sharp focus the increasing risk of the war in Gaza, triggering a wider regional conflict pitting Iran and its allies against Israel and the United States. Iran said five of its Revolutionary Guards were killed in a missile strike on a house in Damascus, which it blamed on Israel, and security sources in Lebanon said an Israeli strike there killed a member of Iran-backed Hezbollah. Earlier, missiles and rockets launched by Iran-backed militants in Iraq, where such groups have targeted US forces, hit al-Asad air base, the US Central Command said. A number of US personnel were being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries and one Iraqi service member was wounded, it said.
The United States also said it had targeted a missile the Iran-backed Houthi group in Yemen was aiming into the Red Sea, which it called a threat to shipping. Amid increased regional tensions, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to punish Israel for its strike in Syria, calling it “crimes” that would not go unanswered, according to a statement on Iran state broadcaster IRIB.
Over the past three months Israel has also repeatedly struck at Iranian targets in Syria, while Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Iraq have fired at US targets in those countries. Aside from Gaza, the theatre of conflict with the widest international repercussions has been the Red Sea, where the Houthis have repeatedly targeted shipping they say is bound for or linked to Israel. Some companies are avoiding the key waterway, dealing a blow to global trade. US and British strikes over the past week have targeted Houthis forces in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister expressed concern that tensions in the Red Sea over Houthi strikes and US counterattacks could spiral out of control in the Middle East.
Denial of Palestinian statehood “unacceptable” – Guterres
The right of the Palestinian people to build their own state “must be recognised by all,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Non-Aligned Movement, a forum of over 100 countries that are not aligned with any major bloc at the UN, during a summit in Uganda. “The refusal to accept a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, and the denial of the right to statehood for the Palestinian people, are unacceptable,” the UN leader insisted in Kampala. Such a stance “would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security; exacerbate polarisation; and embolden extremists everywhere,” Guterres warns. “The right of the Palestinian people to build their own state must be recognised by all,” he said.
Meanwhile, the heads of states of the Non-Aligned Movement on Saturday called Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip “illegal” and strongly condemned indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian civilians, civilian infrastructure, and the forced displacement of the Palestinian population. While calling for a ceasefire desperately needed for humanitarian aid to access the Gaza Strip, the movement called for a two-state solution on the basis of the borders before 1967, when Israel seized Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem in a brief war with neighbouring Arab states. The group also reiterated support for a Palestinian state to be admitted as a member of the United Nations to take its rightful place among the community of nations.
16,000 women and children killed in Israel-Hamas war – UN
Women and children are the main victims in the Israel-Hamas war, with some 16,000 killed and an estimated two mothers losing their lives every hour since Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel, the United Nations agency promoting gender equality has said. As a result of the more than 100-day conflict, UN Women added, at least 3,000 women may have become widows and heads of households and at least 10,000 children may have lost their fathers.
The agency pointed to gender inequality and the burden on women fleeing the fighting with children and being displaced again and again. Of the territory’s 2.3 million population, it said, 1.9 million are displaced and “close to one million are women and girls” seeking shelter and safety. UN Women’s executive director, Sima Bahous, said: “These women and girls are deprived of safety, medicine, health care, and shelter. They face imminent starvation and famine. Most of all, they are deprived of hope and justice,” she said. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says nearly 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, 70% of them women and children. The United Nations says more than half a million people in Gaza – a quarter of the population – are starving.
Six-legged dog undergoes surgery, adjusts to life on four paws
A spaniel born with six legs, that was found abandoned in an England supermarket parking lot, is now like other dogs after having her extra limbs surgically removed. Ariel, who was named for The Little Mermaid character because the additional appendage with two paws on the end looked like a flipper, ran through the grass on Saturday as she adjusted to life on four legs. The dog, who had multiple birth defects, was found in September.
Greenacres Rescue took her in and raised funds for her surgery. Vicki Black, director of the Langford Vets Small Animal Referral Hospital, where she was operated on Thursday, said the hospital, which is part of the University of Bristol, had never seen a six-legged dog or performed such an operation. The extra legs extended from the right hindquarters and appeared to be of no use, dangling beside her wagging tail, as she walked a bit awkwardly in a video shot before the operation.
On Saturday, as she was discharged, she took to the lawn outside the hospital with the determination of a bird dog, nose to the ground and pulling on her leash. “She is doing brilliantly,” said Black.
Are you entitled to an extra day’s pay on this leap year?
Millions of workers could be working an extra day this year with no increase in their wages. As 2024 is a leap year, with 366 days rather than 365, it means employees will work one more day than usual in February – something which has prompted some to ask their employers whether it will mean an extra day’s wages or an entitlement to an extra day off.
The UK’s Bright HR is one company which has noticed an increase in queries about the extra day and has shared an article explaining who will be eligible for an increase in their pay. The situation varies depending how the worker is paid: staff paid by the hour are entitled to be paid for all the time they work. If they work an extra eight hours of work on 29th February then they are entitled to an extra eight hours of pay. Staff who have an annual salary are paid a set amount for the whole year. The extra day will already have been included in the calculation of their overall earnings and will not be entitled to extra pay for the extra day of work, unless their contract says otherwise. Similarly, while they can request to take the day off, any time off would come out of their usual holiday entitlement.
Main photo: Picture Alliance/DPA