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Merkel’s party wins key state vote: Exit poll | Germany News

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Germany’s Christian Democrats fend off far-right AfD challenge, garnering 36 percent of the vote, exit polls show.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives won a resounding victory in a state election in eastern Germany on Sunday, in a boost to Armin Laschet, who hopes to succeed her in September’s national election.

An exit poll from the Saxony-Anhalt election for public broadcaster MDR had the Christian Democrats (CDU) on 36 percent, up more than six points on five years ago, and far ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), who were on 22.5 percent, slightly down on the previous election.

Laschet, a centrist, was seen as having made an uncertain start to his election campaign and had faced calls to chart a more right-wing course to win back voters disenchanted by 16 years of compromises under Merkel.

“We have won the election,” Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff said after the exit polls came out. “A great majority of our citizens have said we don’t want to be associated with the AfD. And for that I’m grateful.”

He and other conservatives hailed the result as a tailwind for them ahead of the federal election.

“This will give us a boost for Berlin,” national conservative caucus leader Ralph Brinkhaus said. “It is a victory for Armin Laschet.”

Armin Laschet hopes to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s national election [Marcel Kusch/Pool via Reuters]

The AfD has moved steadily further to the right in recent years and its chapter in Saxony-Anhalt has come under increased scrutiny from Germany’s domestic intelligence service for its ties to extremist groups.

While elections in Germany’s 16 states are often influenced by local issues and voting sentiments, they are also seen as important bellwethers for the national mood.

A strong win for the CDU would be seen as a sign that Laschet, the party’s new leader, can hope for support from both conservatives and centrists on September 26, when it aims to hold onto power at the federal level despite four-term chancellor Merkel not running again.

Meanwhile, the election result, if projections based on partial counts are confirmed, would be a strong endorsement for Haseloff, who now has the comfort of being able to pick from three possible coalitions with smaller parties.

The 67-year-old, whose popularity in the state was a strong pull for voters, ruled out any cooperation with AfD or the ex-communist Left party, who were projected to get 10.9 percent of the vote – a record low in the state.

The centre-left Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s ruling coalition, also fared worse than five years ago and were expected to get about 8.4 percent, while the environmentalist Greens made modest gains to take 6.2 percent.

For Greens leader Annalena Baerbock the CDU’s success was down to voters seeking to block out the AfD. Many people had voted for the CDU because they “did not want right-wing extremists in the government”, she said.

She admitted however that the Greens’ showing was poorer than hoped, as she blamed the “specific” electoral landscape in Saxony-Anhalt for the performance.

The Greens are traditionally weaker in less urban eastern Germany, which is more reliant on the carbon-intensive industries that the Greens hope to phase out.

Projections also showed that the pro-business Free Democrats entered the state assembly again after missing out five years ago, receiving 6.5 percent.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Armenia: Nikol Pashinyan claims victory in snap polls | Elections News

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Nikol Pashinyan, the acting prime minister of Armenia, has claimed victory in a snap parliamentary election he had called in an effort to defuse a political crisis following a disastrous war with Azerbaijan.

With 75 percent of results declared, Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party had 55.61 percent of the vote on Monday. The electoral alliance of his top rival, former President Robert Kocharyan, had 20 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Voter turnout was about 50 percent, with some 2.6 million people eligible to vote.

“The people of Armenia have given our Civil Contract party a mandate to lead the country and personally me to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinyan said early on Monday.

“We already know that we won a convincing victory in the elections and we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added.

Kocharyan’s bloc, however, questioned the credibility of the preliminary results and said it would not recognise Pashinyan’s quick claim to victory, which came when just 30 percent of precincts had been counted.

“Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organised and planned falsifications serve as a serious reason for lack of trust,” the bloc said in a statement, adding it would not “recognise” the results until the “violations” were studied.

Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021 [Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via Reuters]

Earlier on Sunday evening, the general prosecutor’s office said it had received 319 reports of violations. It said it had opened six criminal probes, all of which concerned bribes during campaigning.

The election is being monitored by experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which recently assessed the voting as largely fair and free. They will deliver an overall verdict on Monday.

Opinion polls prior to the election had put the two parties neck and neck. And while a record four electoral blocs and 21 parties ran for election, only a handful are expected to win seats in parliament.

Six-day war

Pashinyan had called the snap poll to try to end a political crisis that erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. More than 6,500 people were killed in the war, according to the latest official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan has since been under pressure, with regular street protests demanding he step down over the terms of the peace agreement that ended the conflict. Under the deal, which was brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s. Pashinyan himself described the agreement as a disaster, but said he had been compelled to sign it in order to prevent greater human and territorial losses.

From Moscow’s perspective, Pashinyan is a guarantor that the agreement will remain in place. This includes the stationing of some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Arsen Kharatyan, a former adviser to Pashinyan, told Al Jazeera the results gave the acting prime minister a chance to form a government “so that the internal political turmoil stops”.

“Now, how are you going to handle the situation that Armenia is in? In the larger picture, the security architecture of the region has not changed much since the war. Russia is still going to be a major player in all of this. So, whoever comes in to power is going to have to deal with Moscow quite directly,” Kharatyan said, adding that Sunday’s vote also showed none of the parties who campaigned on a “pro-Western agenda got enough votes”.

Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is a close ally of Moscow, although Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018, has had cooler relations with the Kremlin.

Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict, will also be watching the election closely.

Conflicting opinions

On the streets of Yerevan on Sunday, Armenians voiced conflicting opinions about Pashinyan.

Voter Anahit Sargsyan said the prime minister, who spearheaded peaceful protests against corrupt elites in 2018, deserved another chance.

She said she feared the return of the old guard whom she accused of plundering the country.

“I voted against a return to the old ways,” said the 63-year-old former teacher.

An Armenian woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election – called after last year’s defeat in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh – in Yerevan, Armenia, Sunday, June 20, 2021 [Sergei Grits/AP Photo]

Another voter, Vardan Hovhannisyan, said he had cast his ballot for Kocharyan, who calls Russian leader Vladimir Putin his friend.

“I voted for secure borders, solidarity in society, the return of our war prisoners, the wellbeing of the wounded and a strong army,” said the 41-year-old musician.

Kocharyan, who hails from Karabakh, has accused Armenia’s leadership of inaction during last year’s war and pledged to start negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders if he came to power.

Kocharyan was president of Armenia from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 after a disputed election.

At least 10 people were killed in the clashes that followed between police and protesters.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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