on Twitter. He said the facility’s electricity prices had increased 100 percent.

He and other hospital directors have appealed to the government in Warsaw to intervene, saying the recent cuts to taxes on energy and gasoline were not enough.

In Germany, there is rising tension in municipally owned utilities that must accept customers, like Mr. Backhaus in Saxony, whose relatively low-cost contracts have been dropped by private energy companies because the companies can’t pay ballooning energy rates.

The municipal utilities are forced to increase the rates for these new customers, often almost astronomically high, to cover the cost of buying extra energy on the spot market at record prices. That leads to tensions in communities, and can threaten municipal finances.

“Anyone who wants to will be supplied with energy by the municipal utilities,” said Markus Lewe, president of the German Association of Cities and Towns. “But it must not lead to the municipal utilities and their loyal customers being asked to pay for questionable business models of other providers and having to answer for their shortsighted financing.”

He called on the federal government to intervene, to protect cities from the price instability.

In France, local leaders are also looking to the federal government to help ease the sting of skyrocketing energy bills.

Boris Ravignon, the mayor of Charleville-Mézières, said his city is facing “a catastrophe” after its January energy bill more than tripled, wiping out the region’s budget surplus for infrastructure and public services in a single month. The city is trying to cut costs by switching streetlights to LED bulbs, which use less electricity, and has proposed a new hydroelectric project.

The mayor has already frozen planned hirings and said the city may have no choice but to raise the cost of public services like water, transportation, fees to use sports halls like the city’s public pool, and cultural events.

“We really want to protect citizens from these increases,” Mr. Ravignon said. “But when prices reach such crazy heights, it’s impossible.”

Reporting contributed by Adèle Cordonnier in France, Raphael Minder in Spain and Niki Kitsantonis in Greece.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Austria Imposes Lockdown Amid Europe’s Covid Surge

Vaccination rates in most of Western Europe are higher, but the levels in Eastern Europe are far lower — from 59 percent in the Czech Republic to 24 percent in Bulgaria.

Belgium is highly vaccinated, at 75 percent, but a rise in cases has caused the government to impose tighter restrictions, including more working from home and wider mandatory mask wearing. That prompted a protest in Brussels on Sunday of an estimated 35,000 people near the European Union headquarters. Some protesters threw stones and set fires, the police made more than 40 arrests, and three officers were hurt.

Alexander de Croo, the prime minister of Belgium, called the violence “absolutely unacceptable.” Like Mr. Rutte, he said Belgians were free to protest, but that “the way in which some demonstrators behaved had nothing to do with freedom.” He continued: “It had nothing to do with whether vaccination was a good thing or not, this was criminal behavior.”

In Greece, the government said on Monday that unvaccinated people would be barred from indoor spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms. Vaccination certificates for those older than 60 will be valid for only seven months, with people then required to get booster shots to maintain validity.

In Slovakia, the country’s prime minister, Eduard Heger, announced a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” from Monday. Slovakia and the Czech Republic banned unvaccinated people from restaurants, pubs, shopping malls, public events and stores, except for those selling essential goods.

The W.HO. chief for Europe, Hans Kluge, earlier this month blamed the region’s woes on insufficient vaccination despite the availability of vaccines, and said that the continent could see half a million more deaths by February.

“We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place,” he said.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

E.U. Blames Belarus for Migrant Crisis at Poland Border

Poland has massed thousands of troops on its border with Belarus to keep out Middle Eastern migrants who have set up camp there, as Western officials accuse Belarus’s leader of intentionally trying to create a new migrant crisis in Europe.

The standoff along the razor-wire fence separating the two countries has intensified a long-simmering confrontation between Belarus, a repressive former Soviet republic, and the European Union, which includes Poland.

Western officials say that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is allowing asylum seekers from the Middle East into his country by the thousands and then funneling them westward toward Poland and the E.U., and has escalated that strategy this week. They say he is retaliating against sanctions imposed after his disputed 2020 election victory.

The sharp increase in tensions has rattled European officials, with images of desperate migrants evoking the refugee crisis of 2015. The confrontation with Belarus, a close Russian ally, also raises new security concerns.

Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, have accused Poland of illegally pushing migrants who had crossed the border back into Belarusian territory.

warned the West: “We stopped drugs and migrants for you — now you’ll have to eat them and catch them yourselves.”

Until recently, migrants were scattered the length of the border, but now Belarusian authorities are collecting them at the Kuznica crossing, said Anna Alboth of the Minority Rights Group in Poland.

On Tuesday, Belarus’s border service released a video showing a tent camp squeezed into a narrow strip of land just a few yards from a line of Polish security forces in white helmets. The video showed a low-flying helicopter, military vehicles and a water cannon truck on the Polish side, and a thicket of tents and smoky bonfires on the Belarusian side.

video posted by the Polish Ministry of Defense on Monday showed a crowd of people trying to break down the razor wire border fence with long sticks.

sent financial aid to Turkey to do so in 2016.

“We see that the Belarusian specialists are working very responsibly,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters.

Polish officials said that in addition to those at the border, more than 10,000 migrants were elsewhere in Belarus, also hoping to get to the E.U. On Monday, Piotr Müller, a Polish government spokesman, said the country’s borders were “under attack in an organized manner.” A top security official, Maciej Wasik, said a “real battle” had taken place against people trying to enter Poland illegally near Kuznica.

The standoff comes at a particularly difficult moment in Poland’s relations with the E.U., and in the country’s domestic politics. The conservative Polish government’s longstanding feud with the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, over the independence of Poland’s judiciary escalated in recent weeks, and the commission has been withholding the payment of the country’s $41 billion share of the E.U. coronavirus fund.

At home, the Polish governing party, Law and Justice, has seized on the image of a nation besieged by migrants to parade its nationalist credentials and brand its critics as unpatriotic at a time of national crisis. Both the opposition and nationalist groups that support the government are scheduled to rally in the center of the capital on Thursday, Poland’s Independence Day.

Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Tolek Magdziarz from Warsaw. Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, Jane Arraf from Suleimaniya, Iraq, and Andrew Higgins from Cluj, Romania.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Female Afghan Judges and Lawyers Now Fear For Their Lives

When Nabila was a judge in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, she granted divorces to women whose husbands were sometimes jailed for assaulting or kidnapping them. Some of the men threatened to kill her after they had served their time, she said.

In mid-August, as the Taliban poured into Kabul and seized power, hundreds of prisoners were set free. Men once sentenced in Nabila’s courtroom were among them, according to the judge. Like the other women interviewed for this article, her full name has been withheld for her protection.

Within days, Nabila said, she began receiving death threat calls from former prisoners. She moved out of her house in Kabul and went into hiding as she sought ways to leave Afghanistan with her husband and three young daughters.

“I lost my job and now I can’t even go outside or do anything freely because I fear these freed prisoners,” Nabila said by phone from a safe house. “A dark future is awaiting everyone in Afghanistan, especially female judges.”

gains made by women over the past two decades. Female judges and lawyers have left the courts under Taliban pressure, abruptly erasing one of the signal achievements of the United States and allied nations since 2001.

The women have not only lost their jobs, but also live in a state of perpetual fear that they or their loved ones could be tracked down and killed.

worked in Afghanistan for several years. She said she is representing 13 female lawyers and judges who are trying to leave the country.

nearly 90 percent of women experienced some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to a 2008 study by the United States Institute of Peace.

These judges helped to bring some reform to many courts, particularly in urban areas, delivering justice to growing numbers of women and girls beaten and abused by husbands or male relatives.

The women defied a legal system that favored husbands, granting divorces to Afghan wives who in many cases would previously have been doomed to stay in abusive marriages. Among those now in hiding are former lawyers and judges who defended abused women or pursued cases against men accused of beating, kidnapping or raping women and girls.

the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15. She is trying to leave Afghanistan with her mother and two brothers, one of them a former government soldier, she said.

“I lost my job, and now my whole family is at risk, not just me,” Behista said.

shot and killed on their way to work in Kabul.

Male judges and police officers often resisted reforms to the justice system, and pressured women to rescind their complaints from the court. A Human Rights Watch report released in August said the system had failed to provide accountability for violence against women and girls and had undermined progress to protect women’s rights.

The report said landmark legislation passed in 2009, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, was often sabotaged by male officials despite some progress in bringing justice to victims under the law.

World Bank, more than half of all Afghan women lack national ID cards compared with about 6 percent of men. And for many of the women who do have documents, theirs efforts to escape are complicated by a husband or child who does not.

To assist Afghan women, Ms. Motley suggested reviving Nansen Passports, first issued in 1922 to refugees and stateless people after World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Some female judges and lawyers have managed to escape Afghanistan. Polish authorities recently helped 20 women and their families leave, Justice Glazebrook said, and 24 female judges have been evacuated to Greece since August, according to the Greek foreign ministry.

November 2016 suicide bomb attack on the German consulate.

“I was getting threats for the past five years,” Friba said.

In 2014, she secured a divorce for her sister who had been forced to marry a Talib at age 17 under the movement’s first regime. Her sister has since fled to Egypt with their three children. “He is still after her,” she said.

Mr. Karimi, a member of the Taliban cultural commission, denied that the former judges and lawyers were at risk. He said they were covered by a general amnesty for all Afghans who served the previous government.

“To those people who are living in hiding: We are telling them that they should feel free, we won’t do anything to you,” Mr. Karimi said. “It’s their own country. They can live very freely and easily.”

Justice Glazebrook rejected this.

“These women believed in their country, believed in human rights and believed in the importance of the rule of law and their duty to uphold it,” she said.

As a result, she said, “They are at risk of losing their lives.”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens, and Ruhullah Khapalwak from Vancouver.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

German Elections Live Updates: Social Democrats Have Narrowly Beaten Merkel’s Party

preliminary official results reported early Monday.

The federal German election agency posted the results at 4:30 a.m. local time.

The close outcome means the Social Democrats, with only 25.7 percent of the vote, must team up with other parties to form a government. And in the complex equation that can be required in Germany to form a government, it is possible that if the winning party fails to get others on board, the party that placed second could wind up leading the country.

It could take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the core of Europe — faces divisive elections of its own next spring.

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since World War II.

Cheers erupted at the Social Democratic Party’s headquarters when the exit polls were announced early Sunday evening. A short while later, supporters clapped and chanted “Olaf! Olaf!” as Olaf Scholz, their candidate, took the stage to address the crowd.

“People checked the box for the S.P.D. because they want there to be a change of government in this country and because they want the next chancellor to be called Olaf Scholz,” he said.

The campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.

The Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed with only 24.1 percent of the vote, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.

Nevertheless, Mr. Laschet appeared at his party headquarters an hour after the polls closed, declaring the outcome “unclear” and vowing to try to form a government even if his party came in second.

Credit…Pool photo by Clemens Bilan

The progressive, environmentalist Greens appeared to make significant gains since the 2017 election but seemed to fall short of having a viable shot at the chancellery. That positions the Greens, as well as the business-friendly Free Democrats, to join the next government. They will play a key role in deciding what the next German government could look like, depending on which of the larger parties they would like to govern with.

On the outer edge of the political spectrum, support for the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, appeared roughly unchanged, while the Left party appeared to be hovering on the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament.

In mid-October the election agency will present the official final results.

Credit…Michele Tantussi/Reuters

BERLIN — What do a traffic light, the Jamaican flag and a kiwi have in common?

Those watching German politics closely will know all three are nicknames for potential governing coalitions.

In the weeks following the election, the parties will try to form a coalition government that has a majority in the German Parliament. The winning party in the election will have the first chance to try to form that coalition, but if it doesn’t succeed the chance goes to the runner up.

For the first time since the founding of the federal republic 72 years ago, it looks as though it will take at least three parties to form a stable government.

Here’s how things might play out:

Traffic Light Coalition 🚦: This could be the most likely combination. Its name derives from the parties that would be included, the Social Democrats (red), the free market liberal Free Democrats (yellow) and the Greens (uh, green).

Jamaica Coalition 🇯🇲: If Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (black) should take the lead, Germany might be looking at a Jamaica coalition — named after the black, green and yellow of the Jamaican flag. That bloc would consist of the conservatives, the Greens and the Free Democrats.

And the kiwi 🥝? That would be a duo of the conservatives and the Greens, who have worked together in several state governments, but on current polling are unlikely to command a national majority.

Given the relatively low polling of the once-mighty Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, the topic of possible coalitions has dominated news coverage for weeks in Germany. For the past five years, the two big parties have governed Germany together in a “Grand Coalition,” but they don’t want to repeat that and it might not have a majority in any case.

The Social Democrats and the Greens have governed Germany together before — a prosaically named “Red-Green coalition” was in power from 1997 until 2005 — and have signaled their willingness to work together again. But this time they are not expected to win the seats necessary to get a majority on their own.

Seeing their popularity slip, Merkel’s conservatives and much of the conservative media have warned that an ascendant Social Democrats would turn to the far-left party, Die Linke, to round out their numbers.

Credit…Pool photo by Tobias Schwarz

They call it the “Elephant Round”: After the polls close and as the votes are being counted on Sunday, all of the heavy-hitting party leaders sit down together, live on public television, to discuss the outcome that is shaping up.

Those who are winning will exclaim, those who are losing will explain and smaller parties will jockey for position in a new government, cozying up to potential partners or coolly shunning others.

For Germans watching at home, the event, which is scheduled to start at 8:15, is a chance to read the tea leaves about their future government.

For the politicians sitting in the brightly lit studio, the round offers them a chance to try to set the tone for the weeks of negotiations that are expected to follow, given that none of the parties running are expected to win enough votes to allow them to govern alone. Leaders of the smaller parties use the opportunity to make their first demands and draw their lines in the sand.

It is a chance for grandstanding and, occasionally, for grinning. That happened famously in 2005, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats lost by a small margin to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. He nevertheless tried to claim victory, on grounds that his party had done much better than predicted in the polls. “We’ve won,” Ms. Merkel replied with a controlled smile. “And after a couple of days of reflection, the Social Democrats will realize that, too.”

This year, fate may be in the favor of the Social Democrats. Ms. Merkel is stepping aside after 16 years in power and Olaf Scholz, her vice chancellor and finance minister, led the polls in the final weeks of the race. His campaign portrayed him as coolheaded and in control. Come Sunday night, Germans will be watching to see whether he can keep that up when faced with the “elephants.”

In Germany, political parties name their candidates for chancellor before campaigning begins, and most of the focus falls on the selections who have a realistic chance of winning.

Traditionally, those have been the candidates of the center-right Christian Democrats (Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party) and those of the center-left Social Democrats. For the first time this year, the candidate for the environmentalist Greens is viewed as having a real shot at the chancellery.

Here are the leading hopefuls:

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Age: 40

Current position: Co-leader of the Green Party

About her: Ms. Baerbock aims to shake up the status quo. She is challenging Germans to deal with the crises that Ms. Merkel has left largely unattended: decarbonizing the powerful automobile sector; weaning the country off coal; and rethinking trade relationships with strategic competitors like China and Russia.

“This election is not just about what happens in the next four years, it’s about our future,” Ms. Baerbock told a crowd in Bochum, a western German town, this summer.

Ms. Baerbock, who has not a position in government, has started off on a promising note, but her campaign has struggled as she has been a frequent target of disinformation efforts. She has also been accused by rivals of plagiarism and of padding her résumé, and her Green Party has been faulted for not being able to capitalize on environmental issues in the wake of flooding this summer.

Even so, there is almost no combination of parties imaginable in the next coalition government that does not include the Greens. That makes Ms. Baerbock, her ideas and her party of central importance to Germany’s future.

“We need change to preserve what we love and cherish,” she told the crowd in Bochum. “Change requires courage, and change is on the ballot on Sept. 26.”

Credit…John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Age: 60

Current position: Leader of the Christian Democratic Union; governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia

About him: Mr. Laschet has run North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, since 2017 — a credential he has long said qualifies him to run the country. As the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Ms. Merkel’s party, he should have been the natural heir to the chancellor. But his gaffe-prone campaign has struggled to find traction among Germans. Extraordinary flooding this summer in the region he runs exposed flaws in his environmental policies and disaster management. He was caught on camera laughing during a solemn ceremony for flood victims.

But Mr. Laschet is known for comebacks, and for surviving blunders.

Among his influences is his faith. At a time when more and more Germans are quitting the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Laschet is a proud member. Another influence is Aachen, Germany’s westernmost city, where he was born and raised. Growing up in a place with deep ties to Belgium and the Netherlands, Mr. Laschet has been integrated into the larger European ideal all of his life.

Credit…Gordon Welters for The New York Times

Age: 63

Current position: Vice chancellor of Germany and federal finance minister

About him: When Olaf Scholz asked his fellow Social Democrats to nominate him as their candidate for chancellor, some inside his own camp publicly wondered if the party should bother fielding a candidate at all. What a difference a few months make. Today, Mr. Scholz and his once moribund party have unexpectedly become the favorites to lead the next government.

During the campaign, Mr. Scholz has managed to turn what has long been the main liability for his party — co-governing as junior partners of Ms. Merkel’s conservatives — into his main asset: In an election with no incumbent, he has styled himself as the incumbent — or as the closest thing there is to Ms. Merkel.

“Germans aren’t a very change-friendly people, and the departure of Angela Merkel is basically enough change for them,” said Christiane Hoffmann, a prominent political observer and journalist. “They’re most likely to trust the candidate who promises that the transition is as easy as possible.”

He has been photographed making the chancellor’s hallmark diamond-shaped hand gesture — the “Merkel rhombus” — and used the female form of the German word for chancellor on a campaign poster to convince Germans that he could continue Ms. Merkel’s work even though he is a man.

The symbolism isn’t subtle, but it is working — so well in fact that the chancellor herself has felt compelled to push back on it — most recently in what might be her last speech in the Bundestag.

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

It has been said that Germans are sometimes so organized that chaos reigns. Germany’s election system is no exception. It is so complex that even many Germans don’t understand it.

Here’s a brief primer.

Not exactly. Unlike in the United States, voters don’t directly elect their head of government. Rather, they vote for representatives in Parliament, who will choose the next chancellor, but only after forming a government. More on that later.

The major parties declare who they would choose for chancellor, so Germans going to the polls today know who they are in effect voting for. This year the candidates most likely to become chancellor are Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats or Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats. Annalena Baerbock, a Green, has an outside chance.

Any German citizen 18 or over. They don’t need to register beforehand.

Everyone going to the polls today has two votes. The first vote is for a candidate to be the district’s local representative. The second vote is for a party. Voters can split their votes among parties and often do. For example, a person could cast one vote for a Social Democrat as the local member of Parliament, and a second vote for the Christian Democrats as a party.

Parliament has 598 members, but could wind up with many more because of a quirk in the system. The top vote-getter in every district automatically gets a seat in Parliament. These candidates account for half of the members of Parliament. The remaining seats are allocated according to how many second votes each party receives.

But parties may be allocated additional seats according to a formula designed to ensure that every faction in Parliament has a delegation that accurately reflects its national support. So Parliament could easily wind up with 700 members.

Also: A party that polls less than 5 percent doesn’t get any seats at all.

It is very unlikely that any party will wind up with a majority in Parliament. The party that gets the most votes must then try to form a government by agreeing to a coalition with other parties. That has become mathematically more difficult because of the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party and the far-left Linke party.

The mainstream parties have ruled out coalitions with either of those parties because of their extreme positions. But it will be a struggle for the remaining parties to find enough common ground to cobble together a majority. The process could take months.

Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

Voter turnout in Germany — as a measure of the people visiting polling stations — was down on Sunday when compared to the last election in 2017, officials said. But the number is misleading. Participation could be extraordinarily high once mail-in ballots are counted.

By 2 p.m., 37 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots in person, election officials said, down from 41 percent during the same period in 2017. But at least 40 percent of Germans were expected to vote by mail because of the coronavirus, potentially pushing turnout above the 76 percent recorded in 2017.

Despite the decrease in in-person voting nationwide, there were long lines at polling stations in Berlin, where voters were also choosing candidates for the local government. Some polling places reportedly ran out of ballots and had trouble getting more because many streets were closed because of the Berlin Marathon, which was expected to attract almost 30,000 participants.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel poised to step down after 16 years in office, the stakes are high. Polls showed a close race between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union, Ms. Merkel’s party, which could encourage turnout. Voting sites remain open until 6 p.m. local time.

The high number of mail-in ballots is not expected to delay the results in the same way that occurred in the United States presidential elections last year, when close races in some states were not decided for days. German officials will only count mail-in ballots that had arrived by Sunday, and should have a good idea by midnight at the latest of which party prevailed.

Credit…Pool photo by Martin Divisek

The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which shocked the nation four years ago by becoming the first far-right party to win seats in Parliament since World War II, suffered a slippage in support Sunday but also solidified its status as a permanent force to be reckoned with.

“We are here to stay, and we showed that today,” Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party, told party members gathered on the outskirts of Berlin.

Early results showed the party with 11 percent of the votes, down from almost 13 percent in 2017. The AfD is likely to no longer be the largest opposition party in Parliament.

If those results hold in final tallies, that will still give the AfD a sizable delegation in Parliament, and the vote showed that the party has a core constituency even when immigration, its main issue, was not a major topic in the campaign.

At the AfD’s post-election gathering Sunday, activists took comfort in the poor showing by the Christian Democrats, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who compete with the AfD for conservative voters. “The C.D.U. got what they deserved,” said Alexander Gauland, the leader of the AfD delegation in Parliament.

Alternative for Germany held its election party at an event space 45 minutes by subway from central Berlin, perhaps in an effort to discourage counter-demonstrators. Several dozen protesters gathered across the street from the AfD event, holding signs accusing the party of being fascist. But they were probably outnumbered by the police.

As AfD activists ate potato salad and wurst from a buffet, the prevailing view seemed to be that the party’s candidates would have done better if the media and the other parties hadn’t ganged up on them.

“We had to campaign against everyone,” said Daniela Öeynhausen, who appears to have won a seat in the state Parliament of Brandenburg. “It was still an impressive two-digit result considering the unfair attacks.”

Julian Potthast, who said he believed he had won election to a district council in a neighborhood of Berlin, portrayed the party — whose rhetoric has been linked to attacks on immigrants or people perceived as non-Germans — as itself the victim of violence. He said that his vehicle was vandalized and that graffiti was sprayed on his home.

The party was unfairly portrayed as fascist, he complained. But he also conceded the party might have made mistakes, for example in its stance against restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. “It’s not as good as we hoped,” Mr. Potthast said. “We have to look very carefully at why we lost votes.”

Credit…Thomas Kienzle/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel will not disappear Sunday night after the votes are counted.

Until a new government is formed, a process that can take several weeks to several months, she will remain in office as head of the acting, or caretaker, government.

Ms. Merkel announced in the fall of 2018 that she would not run again and she gave up leadership of her party, the Christian Democratic Union. After that, her position as chancellor was weakened as members of the C.D.U. jockeyed to replace her. She had hoped to stay out of the election campaign, but as the conservative candidate, Armin Laschet, started to flounder, she made several appearances aimed at bolstering support for him.

Ms. Merkel is expected to try to take a similarly hands-off approach to steering the caretaker government — if world events allow. The last two years of her fourth and final term in office has seen the deadly coronavirus pandemic, what she herself has called “apocalyptic” flooding in western Germany and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Once the new chancellor is sworn in, Ms. Merkel will vacate her office in the imposing concrete building that dominates Berlin’s government district for good.

But, after the last election, in 2017, it took 171 days — or nearly six months — to form a new government, which means she is likely to be around for a while.

What she will do next remains to be seen. In response to that question in repeated interviews, she has said that first and foremost she will take some time off to reflect and reorient herself before making her next move.

“I will take a break and I will think about what really interests me, because in the past 16 years, I haven’t had the time to do that,” she said in July, after receiving an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University.

“Then I will maybe read a bit, and then my eyes might close because I am tired and I will sleep a bit,” she said, with a smile: “And then we’ll see where I emerge.”

Credit…Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance, via Getty Images

BERLIN — German election officials are expecting mail-in ballots to break records in Sunday’s federal election. At least 40 percent and possibly a majority of ballots will arrive by mail, according to Georg Thiel, head of the agency in charge of counting the votes.

Although actual tallies will only be known after polls close, the authorities have seen requests for mail-in ballots grow this year as the pandemic fuels anxiety about crowded polling stations.

Mail-in balloting has been permitted in Germany for more than 60 years. When it was first allowed, in the 1957 election, only 5 percent of voters used the option; during the last federal election in 2017, 29 percent chose to mail in their choice. Vote counters are set up to handle a doubling of that number — nearly 60 percent — this year, Mr. Thiel said.

The postal service in Germany is one of the quickest and most reliable in the world, with letters usually delivered within a day to anywhere in the country. Still, an official warned voters last week that if they wanted their ballot to be counted, it should be in the mail by Thursday; only ballots received by 6 p.m. on Sunday — when polls close — will be tallied.

The populist Alternative for Germany party, segments of which have parroted former President Donald J. Trump’s claims of manipulated mail-in ballots in the U.S., has used slogans like “the mailbox is not a ballot box” to try to dissuade voters from using the option. But those concerns do not appear to have resonated with the electorate.

Video

Video player loading
The new Parliament will ultimately determine who succeeds Angela Merkel, who has served as chancellor for 16 years. Early exit polling has suggested a tight race between the Christian Democratic Union, Ms. Merkel’s center-right party, and the center-left Social Democrats.CreditCredit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

Sixty million people are eligible to vote in the German national election on Sunday. There won’t be a new government that night, or the next day — it could take the rival parties weeks or even months to settle on a coalition with a parliamentary majority. But the ballots are tallied quickly, and the new shape of Germany’s political landscape is likely to be visible within hours.

Here’s what Election Day will look like, and what to watch for.

8 a.m. local time: Polls opened. Candidates are not allowed to campaign on this day, but some may be seen casting ballots.

6 p.m. (noon Eastern): Polling stations close. Not long after, the first exit polls should be available. These polls can be within percentage points of the final result. But this year, because the race is tight, it could be a few more hours before a clear picture emerges. Mail-in ballots, which have been part of Germany’s voting system since 1957, are expected to play an outsized role given the pandemic, as they did in the U.S. presidential election. Only mail-in ballots received by 6 p.m. Sunday will be counted.

Around 6:15 p.m.: The first projections based on actual counted ballots will be released. These get updated throughout the evening until a fairly clear picture emerges of which party is winning.

8:15 p.m.: The heads of all the major parties meet to discuss successes and failures of their campaigns, and they will signal who they would be willing to work with in a coalition government. This discussion is called the “Elephant Round,” and it lasts an hour.

8 p.m. to midnight: Nearly all votes should be counted.

Early, early morning: The election authorities release something they call the official temporary results. These usually come between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. — though during the last national election, they didn’t arrive until 5:30 a.m.

Credit…Bernd von Jutrczenka/Picture Alliance, via Getty Images

During her 16 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has become an international avatar of calm, reason and democratic values for the way she handled crises that included a near financial meltdown of the eurozone, the arrival of more than a million migrants and a pandemic.

Today Germany is an economic colossus, the engine of Europe, enjoying prosperity and near full employment despite the pandemic. But can it last?

That is the question looming as Ms. Merkel prepares to leave the political stage after national elections on Sunday. There are signs that Germany is economically vulnerable, losing competitiveness and unprepared for a future shaped by technology and the rivalry between the United States and China.

During her tenure, economists say, Germany neglected to build world-class digital infrastructure, bungled a hasty exit from nuclear power, and became alarmingly dependent on China as a market for its autos and other exports.

The China question is especially complex. Germany’s strong growth during Ms. Merkel’s tenure was largely a result of trade with China, which she helped promote. But, increasingly, China is becoming a competitor in areas like industrial machinery and electric vehicles.

Economists say that Germany has not invested enough in education and in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and electric vehicles. Germans pay some of the highest energy prices in the world because Ms. Merkel pushed to close nuclear power plants, without expanding the country’s network of renewable energy sources enough to cover the deficit.

“That is going to come back to haunt Germany in the next 10 years,” said Guntram Wolff, director of Bruegel, a research institute in Brussels.

Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

WÜLFRATH, Germany — Hibaja Maai gave birth three days after arriving in Germany.

She had fled the bombs that destroyed her home in Syria and crossed the black waters of the Mediterranean on a rickety boat with her three young children. In Greece, a doctor urged her to stay put, but she pressed on, through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. Only after she had crossed the border into Bavaria did she relax and almost immediately go into labor.

“It’s a girl,” the doctor said when he handed her the newborn bundle.

There was no question in Ms. Maai’s mind what her daughter’s name would be.

“We are calling her Angela,” she told her husband, who had fled six months earlier and was reunited with his family two days before little Angela’s birth on Feb. 1, 2016.

“Angela Merkel saved our lives,” Ms. Maai said in a recent interview in her new hometown, Wülfrath, in northwestern Germany. “She gave us a roof over our heads, and she gave a future to our children. We love her like a mother.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down after her replacement is chosen following Germany’s Sept. 26 election. Her decision to welcome more than a million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in 2015 and 2016 stands as perhaps the most consequential moment of her 16 years in power.

It changed Europe, changed Germany, and above all changed the lives of those seeking refuge, a debt acknowledged by families who named their newborn children after her in gratitude.

The chancellor has no children of her own. But in different corners of Germany, there are now 5- and 6-year-old girls (and some boys) who carry variations of her name — Angela, Angie, Merkel and even Angela Merkel. How many is impossible to say. The New York Times has identified nine, but social workers suggest there could be far more, each of them now calling Germany home.

Credit…Clemens Bilan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Never before has the issue of climate change played such a role in a German election.

Though it still remained unclear who will lead Germany, nearly every party pledged to put climate change near the top of the agenda for the next government.

Despite entering office in 2005 with ambitions to reduce carbon emissions, four successive governments under Chancellor Angela Merkel failed to significantly reduce Germany’s carbon footprint. It remains in the top 10 of the world’s most polluting countries, according to the World Bank.

It has been young climate activists who have succeeded in bringing the climate debate to the forefront of Germany’s political discussion. This year, they successfully took the government to court, forcing a 2019 law aimed at bringing the country’s carbon emissions down to nearly zero by 2050 to be reworked with more ambitious and detailed goals to reduce emissions through 2030.

On Friday, people of all ages marched through the center of Berlin, then rallied on the lawn before the Reichstag, where Germany’s Parliament meets. Thousands turned out for similar protests in other cities across the country.

They were joined by Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old climate activist who started the Fridays for Future protests in Stockholm in 2018 by skipping school as a way of shaming the world into addressing climate change, made a guest appearance at a protest in Berlin. Future Fridays were a staple in Germany until the pandemic hit.

“Yes, we must vote and you must vote, but remember that voting will not be enough,” she told the crowd, urging them to stay motivated and keep up the pressure on politicians.

“We can still turn this around. People are ready for change,” she said. “We demand the change and we are the change.”

Credit…Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

BERLIN — In the prelude to Sunday’s federal election, one of the strangest questions faced by Armin Laschet, governor of Germany’s most populous state and one of the front-runners, was what his dragon name would be.

Mr. Laschet, apparently nonplused, exhaled loudly. “No idea,” he answered. “What kind of names do dragons have?”

As the vote neared and the competition to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel increasingly turned on the candidates’ characters, the contenders submitted themselves to an exhaustive schedule of interviews, debates and town hall-style discussions — including some inquiries from children. In fact, many of the most memorable moments were prompted by the younger questioners.

On one program, “Can You Do the Chancellery,” each of the main candidates was given 30 minutes to teach a classroom of 8- to 13-year-olds. During their separate sessions leading the class, candidates answered questions and had to explain complex themes (like global taxation or global warming) on a whiteboard.

Pauline and Romeo, the children who asked Mr. Laschet about dragons, were part of a segment on a late-night talk show. The two, both 11, threw Mr. Laschet no softballs. Among other things, they asked if he was planning on quitting smoking (a question he dodged, though he did offer that he did not inhale) and about a far-right candidate in his party.

When the 10-minute segment aired this month, Mr. Laschet was widely panned for his performance. (Two other candidates, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens and Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, survived Pauline and Romeo without making any headlines.)

But Mr. Laschet was not the only one to struggle. Tino Chrupalla, co-chairman of the populist Alternative for Germany party, also had a tough time with a younger interrogator.

In a publicly broadcast interview, Mr. Chrupalla told a teenage reporter called Alexander that his party wanted to see more German poems and songs being taught in classrooms. But when Alexander asked him what his favorite German poem was, Mr. Chrupalla struggled to name one.

Credit…Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Unusually long lines at polling stations on Sunday caused several Berlin voting locations to remain open for hours after the 6 p.m. closing deadline. That extension may add hours to the time it will take Germany to tally the votes.

The culprit seems to have been a combination of higher-than-expected in-person voting, missing or wrong ballots, and a road-blocking marathon that delayed restocking supplies.

Paco Mallia, 18, who looked forward to voting for the first time, turned back when he saw the long line at his polling station in the central neighborhood of Moabit on Sunday morning.

When he returned just before closing time, the line remained long, but an election worker assured Mr. Mallia that he would get to vote.

At other polling stations in the city, handwritten notes informed voters that as long as they stood in line by 6 p.m. they could cast a ballot.

Mr. Mallia decided to stay. “This election is kind of a big deal for me,” he said.

Although delays were reported in other jurisdictions, Berlin — where residents also voted in state and local elections — seems to have been hardest hit.

Dirk Behrendt, a Green Party city official, demanded an investigation into the delays.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

A Journey Through Merkel’s Germany: Affluent, Anxious and Almost Normal

As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.


STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.

Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacation and a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.

All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.

“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.

But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.

parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.

successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.

phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.

Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<