Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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Live Updates: Ukrainian Holdouts in Mariupol Surrender to an Uncertain Fate

BUCHA, Ukraine — A breeze rustles through the cherry blossoms in bloom on almost every block in this small city, the white petals fluttering onto streets where new pavement covers damage left by Russian tanks just weeks ago.

Spring has arrived in Bucha in the six weeks since Russian soldiers withdrew from this bedroom community outside Kyiv, leaving behind mass graves of slaughtered citizens, many of them mutilated, as well as broken streets and destroyed buildings.

A semblance of normal life has returned to the city. Residents have been coming back to Bucha over the past few weeks, and the city has raced to repair the physical damage wrought by the invading Russian troops and their weapons. Now, on the leafy springtime streets of the city, it is hard to imagine the horrors that unfolded here.

On a newly paved street with freshly painted white lines, the rotating brushes of a street cleaning machine whisked away what was left of shattered glass and bits of iron shrapnel. In one of the neighborhoods where many of the roughly 400 bodies of Ukrainian citizens were discovered in April, technicians were laying cable to restore internet service. At one house, a resident was removing pieces of destroyed Russian tanks still littering his garden.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Sweeping away as many traces as possible of the destruction caused by the Russian occupation was an important step in healing the wounds suffered by Bucha’s residents, said Taras Shapravsky, a City Council official.

Mr. Shapravsky said 4,000 residents had stayed in the city while it was occupied, terrified and many hiding in basements without enough food. Even after the Russian soldiers withdrew, many residents remained traumatized.

“They were in very bad psychological condition,” he said. “Specialists explained to us that the faster we clear away all possible reminders of the war, the faster we will be able to take people out of this condition.”

Mr. Shapravsky said phone reception was restored a few days after the Russians left, and then water and electricity. He said about 10,000 residents had returned so far — roughly a quarter of the prewar population of this small city 20 miles from Kyiv, the capital.

In a sign of life returning to normal, he said the marriage registration office reopened last week and almost every day, couples are applying for marriage licenses.

Bucha was a city where many people moved to for quieter lifestyles, a place where they could raise families away from the bustle of the capital, to which many commuted to work. It was a place where people from Kyiv might drive to on a nice weekend to have lunch.

Six years ago, Sergo Markaryan and his wife opened the Jam Cafe, where they served Italian food, played old jazz and sold jars of jam. He described the cafe as almost like their child, and he has decorated it with an eclectic mix of hundreds of pictures and strings of photos of customers.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

When Russia invaded, Mr. Markaryan, 38, drove his wife and 3-year-old son to the border with Georgia, where he is from. As a Georgian citizen he could have stayed outside the country, but he came back to Ukraine to volunteer, sending food to the front lines.

Two weeks ago, when the electricity was restored, Mr. Markaryan came back on his own to Bucha to see what was left of the cafe and repair the damage caused by the Russian soldiers.

“They stole the knives and forks,” he said, ticking off missing items. He said the soldiers dragged the dining chairs out to use at checkpoints and stole the sound system. And, he said, despite the working toilets, they had defecated on the floor before leaving.

Two days before it was due to reopen last week, the cafe and its outdoor terrace looked spotless and Mr. Markaryan was taste-testing the espresso to see if it was up to par.

“Many people have already returned but some are still afraid,” Mr. Markaryan said. “But we have all definitely become much stronger than we were. We faced things that we never thought could happen.”

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

On the other side of town, in a row of closed shops with peaked roofs and boarded-up windows, Mr. B — a former cocktail bar run by Borys Tkachenko has been patched up and turned into a coffee bar.

Mr. Tkachenko, 27, came back to Bucha a month ago, repaired the roof, which like most of the buildings on the street appeared to have been damaged by shrapnel, and found that the espresso machine was still there. He reopened to sell coffee — or in the case of customers who were soldiers or medical workers, give it away.

Mr. Tkachenko, who had worked in clubs in Florida and Canada and studied the hotel business in Switzerland, opened the bar with his savings last December. Russia invaded two months later.

He said he knew they had to leave when his 14-month-old daughter started running around their apartment, covering her ears and saying “boom, boom, boom” at the sound of explosions.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Mr. Tkachenko drove his family to the border with Slovakia, where they eventually made their way to Switzerland. He returned to Ukraine to volunteer, helping to send supplies to the front and to displaced civilians.

“We had big plans for this place,” Mr. Tkachenko, who despite everything had a wide smile that matched a tattoo on his arm reading, “Born to be happy,” said of his bar.

He said that when the war ended he would probably join his wife and daughter in Switzerland.

“I don’t see a future here right now,” he said.

While the frenetic activity of city workers and residents has helped clear the city of much of the debris of the Russian occupation, the scars of what happened here run deep.

On one quiet street corner, a bunch of dandelions and lilies of the valley had been laid out on a flowered scarf in a modest sidewalk memorial.

Volodymyr Abramov, 39, said the memorial honored his brother-in-law, Oleh Abramov, who was taken out of his house at gunpoint by Russian soldiers, ordered to kneel and shot. (Oleh Abramov and his wife, Iryna, were the subject of a Times article published this month.)

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“He was not even interrogated,” he said.

Mr. Abramov’s home was destroyed by Russian soldiers who tossed grenades into his house. But he said that was nothing compared with the suffering of his 48-year-old sister, Iryna Abramova, who lost her husband as well as her house.

“I try to help her and take care of her so she doesn’t kill herself,” he said. “I tell her that her husband is watching her from heaven.”

Mr. Abramov, a glazier, said he was now wondering if he should rebuild his house. “I want to run away from here,” he said.

Outside the city’s morgue, where French and Ukrainian investigators are still working to identify bodies from the massacres by Russian troops, a small group of residents gathered, hoping to find out what happened to family members.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Yulia Monastyrska, 29, said she had come to try to get a death certificate for her husband, whose body was among those discovered in April. His hands were bound, he had been shot in the back and the legs, and one of his eyes was burned out, she said.

Ms. Monastyrska said her husband, Ivan, was a crane operator who disappeared while she and her 7-year-old daughter, Oleksandra, hid in the basement of their apartment building.

Oleksandra, wearing glasses and sneakers with princesses on them, leaned against her mother as she listened to details that were clearly now familiar to her.

“As far as I know, everyone wants to come back here, but they are still afraid,” Ms. Monastyrska said. “We were born here, we lived here, a lot of good things happened here.”

Yulia Kozak, 48, accompanied by her daughter Daryna, 23, and Daryna’s 3-year-old son, Yehor, had come to take a DNA test to see if there was a match among the unidentified remains of her missing son, Oleksandr, 29, who had fought in the war against Russia in 2017.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Prosecutors found his military ID, dirty and moldy, in a basement where the Russians held prisoners.

Sobbing, she said the last time she spoke by phone with her son, in March, he had told her he was being shot at. In his apartment, there is a bullet hole in the window, on which the sign of the cross had been etched.

Ms. Kozak, a cook, said she planned to stay in Bucha until she found her son.

“I am sure he is alive, 100 percent sure,” she said. “I feel that he is somewhere, I just don’t know where.”

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

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As Officials Look Away, Hate Speech in India Nears Dangerous Levels

HARIDWAR, India — The police officer arrived at the Hindu temple here with a warning to the monks: Don’t repeat your hate speech.

Ten days earlier, before a packed audience and thousands watching online, the monks had called for violence against the country’s minority Muslims. Their speeches, in one of India’s holiest cities, promoted a genocidal campaign to “kill two million of them” and urged an ethnic cleansing of the kind that targeted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

When videos of the event provoked national outrage, the police came. The saffron-clad preachers questioned whether the officer could be objective.

Yati Narsinghanand, the event’s firebrand organizer known for his violent rhetoric, assuaged their concerns.

warned that “inciting people against each other is a crime against the nation” without making a specific reference to Haridwar. Junior members of Mr. Modi’s party attended the event, and the monks have often posted pictures with senior leaders.

“You have persons giving hate speech, actually calling for genocide of an entire group, and we find reluctance of the authorities to book these people,” Rohinton Fali Nariman, a recently retired Indian Supreme Court judge, said in a public lecture. “Unfortunately, the other higher echelons of the ruling party are not only being silent on hate speech, but almost endorsing it.”

increasingly emboldened vigilante groups.

Vigilantes have beaten people accused of disrespecting cows, considered holy by some Hindus; dragged couples out of trains, cafes and homes on suspicion that Hindu women might be seduced by Muslim men; and barged into religious gatherings where they suspect people are being converted.

Myanmar was an example of how the easy dissemination of misinformation and hate speech on social media prepares the ground for violence. The difference in India, he said, is that it would be the mobs taking action instead of the military.

“You have to stop it now,” he said, “because once the mobs take over it could really turn deadly.”


The Dasna Devi temple in Uttar Pradesh state, where Mr. Narsinghanand is the chief priest, is peppered with signs that call to prepare for a “dharm yudh,” or religious war. One calls on “Hindus, my lions” to value their weapons “just the way dedicated wives value their husbands.”

The temple’s main sign prohibits Muslims from entering.

vast network of volunteers to mobilize voters and secure victories.

When he was chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi saw firsthand how unchecked communal tensions could turn into bloodletting.

In 2002, a train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. Although the cause was disputed, violent mobs, in response, targeted the Muslim community, leaving more than 1,000 people dead, many burned alive.

Rights organizations and opposition leaders accused Mr. Modi of looking the other way. He rejected the allegations as political attacks.

took an oath to turn India into a Hindu state, even if it meant killing for it.

role model.”

he said.

telling them.

The police arrested Mr. Narsinghanand on Jan. 15, and he was charged in court with hate speech.

“He said nothing wrong,” said Swami Amritanand, an organizer of the Haridwar event. “We are doing what America is doing, we are doing what Britain is doing.”

Mr. Amritanand said the call for arms was justified because “within the next 10 to 12 years there will be a horrible war that will play out in India.”

Late last month, the monks again sounded a violent call to create a Hindu state, this time at an event hundreds of miles away from Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh. They threatened violence — referencing a bombing of India’s assembly — if Mr. Narsinghanand was not released.

Ms. Pandey described their actions as defensive. “We must prepare to protect ourselves,” she said.

To the Haridwar police, the event in Uttar Pradesh did not count as a repeat offense. Rakendra Singh Kathait, the senior police officer in Haridwar, said Mr. Narsinghanand was in jail because he had acted again in the city; others like Ms. Pandey got a warning.

“If she goes and says it from Kolkata, it doesn’t count as repeat here,” Mr. Kathait said.

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Voting for President, Chile Faces Stark Choice, With Constitution at Stake

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chileans faced a stark choice between left and right on Sunday as they began voting in a presidential election that has the potential to make or break the effort to draft a new constitution.

The race was the nation’s most polarizing and acrimonious in recent history, presenting Chileans with sharply different visions on a range of issues, including the role of the state in the economy, pension reform, the rights of historically marginalized groups and public safety.

José Antonio Kast, 55, a far-right former lawmaker who has promised to crack down on crime and civil unrest, faces Gabriel Boric, 35, a leftist legislator who proposes raising taxes to combat entrenched inequality.

The stakes are higher than in most recent presidential contests because Chile is at a critical political crossroads. The incoming president stands to profoundly shape the effort to replace Chile’s Constitution, imposed in 1980 when the country was under military rule. Chileans voted overwhelmingly last year to draft a new one.

campaigned vigorously against establishing a constitutional convention, whose members Chileans elected in May. The body is tasked with drafting a new charter that voters will approve or reject in a direct vote next September.

Members of the convention see Mr. Kast’s rise as an existential threat to their work, fearing he could marshal the resources and the bully pulpit of the presidency to persuade voters to reject the revised constitution.

“There’s so much at stake,” said Patricia Politzer, a member of the convention from Santiago. “The president has enormous power and he could use the full backing of the state to campaign against the new constitution.”

Recent polls have suggested Mr. Boric has a slight edge, although Mr. Kast won the most votes during the first round of voting last month.

Mr. Boric has referred to his rival as a fascist and has assailed several of his plans, which include expanding the prison system and empowering the security forces to more forcefully crack down on Indigenous challenges to land rights in the south of the country.

Mr. Kast has told voters a Boric presidency would destroy the foundation that has made Chile’s economy one of the best performing in the region and would likely put the nation on a path toward becoming a failed state like Venezuela.

“This has been a campaign dominated by fear, to a degree we’ve never seen before,” said Claudia Heiss, a political science professor at the University of Chile. “That can do damage in the long run because it deteriorates the political climate.”

Mr. Boric and Mr. Kast each found traction with voters who had become fed up with the center-left and center-right political factions that have traded power in Chile in recent decades. The conservative incumbent, Sebastián Piñera, has seen his approval ratings plummet below 20 percent over the past two years.

Mr. Boric got his start in politics as a prominent organizer of the large student demonstrations in 2011 that persuaded the government to grant low-income students tuition-free education. He was first elected to congress in 2014.

A native of Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost province, Mr. Boric made taking bold steps to curb global warming a core promise of his campaign. This included a politically risky proposal to raise taxes on fuel.

Mr. Boric, who has tattoos and dislikes wearing ties, has spoken publicly about being diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition for which he was briefly hospitalized in 2018.

In the wake of the sometimes violent street protests and political turmoil set off by a hike in subway fares in October 2019, he vowed to turn a litany of grievances that had been building over generations into an overhaul of public policy. Mr. Boric said it was necessary to raise taxes on corporations and the ultrarich in order to expand the social safety net and create a more egalitarian society.

“Today, many older people are working themselves to death after backbreaking labor all their lives,” he said during the race’s final debate, promising to create a system of more generous pensions. “That is unfair.”

Mr. Kast, the son of German immigrants, served as a federal lawmaker from 2002 to 2018. A father of nine, he has been a vocal opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. His national profile rose during the 2017 presidential race, when he won nearly 8 percent of the vote.

Mr. Kast has called his rival’s proposed expansion of spending reckless, saying what Chile needs is a far leaner, more efficient state rather than an expanded support system. During his campaign’s closing speech on Thursday, Mr. Kast warned that electing his rival would deepen unrest and stoke violence.

Mr. Kast invoked the “poverty that has dragged down Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba” as a cautionary tale. “People flee from there because dictatorship, narco-dictatorship, only brings poverty and misery,” he said.

That message, a throwback to Cold War language, has found resonance among voters like Claudio Bruce, 55, who lost his job during the pandemic.

“In Chile we can’t afford to fall into those types of political regimes because it would be very difficult to bounce back from that,” he said. “We’re at a very dangerous crossroads for our children, for our future.”

Antonia Vera, a recent high school graduate who has been campaigning for Mr. Boric, said she saw electing him as the only means to turn a grass-roots movement for a fairer, more prosperous nation into reality.

“When he speaks about hope, he’s speaking about the long-term future, a movement that started brewing many years ago and exploded in 2019,” she said.

The new president will struggle to carry out sweeping changes any time soon, said Claudio Fuentes, a political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, noting the evenly divided incoming congress.

“The probability of making good on their campaign plans is low,” he said. “It’s a scenario in which it will be hard to push reforms through.”

Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro.

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As World Shuts Borders to Stop Omicron, Japan Offers a Cautionary Tale

TOKYO — With the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus late last week, countries across the globe rushed to close their borders to travelers from southern Africa, even in the absence of scientific information about whether such measures were necessary or likely to be effective in stopping the virus’s spread.

Japan has gone further than most other countries so far, announcing on Monday that the world’s third-largest economy would be closed off to travelers from everywhere.

It is a familiar tactic for Japan. The country has barred tourists since early in the pandemic, even as most of the rest of the world started to travel again. And it had only tentatively opened this month to business travelers and students, despite recording the highest vaccination rate among the world’s large wealthy democracies and after seeing its coronavirus caseloads plunge by 99 percent since August.

Now, as the doors slam shut again, Japan provides a sobering case study of the human and economic cost of those closed borders. Over the many months that Japan has been isolated, thousands of life plans have been suspended, leaving couples, students, academic researchers and workers in limbo.

United States, Britain and most of Europe reopened over the summer and autumn to vaccinated travelers, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region opened their borders only a crack, even after achieving some of the world’s highest vaccination rates. Now, with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Japan, along with Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea, are quickly battening down again.

outbreak of the Delta variant.

Japan is recording only about 150 coronavirus cases a day, and before the emergence of the Omicron variant, business leaders had been calling for a more aggressive reopening.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Japan did what most countries around the world did — we thought we needed proper border controls,” Yoshihisa Masaki, director of communications at Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobbying group, said in an interview earlier this month.

But as cases diminished, he said, the continuation of firm border restrictions threatened to stymie economic progress. “It will be like Japan being left behind in the Edo Period,” Mr. Masaki said, referring to Japan’s isolationist era between the 17th and mid-19th centuries.

Thailand had recently reopened to tourists from 63 countries, and Cambodia had just started to welcome vaccinated visitors with minimal restrictions. Other countries, like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, were allowing tourists from certain countries to arrive in restricted areas.

Wealthier Asian countries like Japan resisted the pressure to reopen. With the exception of its decision to hold the Summer Olympics, Japan has been cautious throughout the pandemic. It was early to shut its borders and close schools. It rolled out its vaccination campaign only after conducting its own clinical trials. And dining and drinking hours remained restricted in many prefectures until September.

Foreign companies could not bring in executives or other employees to replace those who were moving back home or to another international posting, said Michael Mroczek, a lawyer in Tokyo who is president of the European Business Council.

In a statement on Monday, the council said business travelers or new employees should be allowed to enter provided they follow strict testing and quarantine measures.

“Trust should be put in Japan’s success on the vaccination front,” the council said. “And Japan and its people are now firmly in a position to reap the economic rewards.”

Business leaders said they wanted science to guide future decisions. “Those of us who live and work in Japan appreciate that the government’s policies so far have substantially limited the impact of the pandemic here,” said Christopher LaFleur, former American ambassador to Malaysia and special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

But, he said, “I think we really need to look to the science over the coming days” to see whether a complete border shutdown is justified.

Students, too, have been thrown into uncertainty. An estimated 140,000 or more have been accepted to universities or language schools in Japan and have been waiting months to enter the country to begin their courses of study.

Carla Dittmer, 19, had hoped to move from Hanstedt, a town south of Hamburg, Germany, to Japan over the summer to study Japanese. Instead, she has been waking up every morning at 1 to join an online language class in Tokyo.

“I do feel anxious and, frankly speaking, desperate sometimes, because I have no idea when I would be able to enter Japan and if I will be able to keep up with my studies,” Ms. Dittmer said. “I can understand the need of caution, but I hope that Japan will solve that matter with immigration precautions such as tests and quarantine rather than its walls-up policy.”

The border closures have economically flattened many regions and industries that rely on foreign tourism.

When Japan announced its reopening to business travelers and international students earlier this month, Tatsumasa Sakai, 70, the fifth-generation owner of a shop that sells ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, in Asakusa, a popular tourist destination in Tokyo, hoped that the move was a first step toward further reopening.

“Since the case numbers were going down, I thought that we could have more tourists and Asakusa could inch toward coming back to life again,” he said. “I guess this time, the government is just taking precautionary measures, but it is still very disappointing.”

Mr. Dery and Ms. Hirose also face a long wait. Mr. Dery, who met Ms. Hirose when they were both working at an automotive parts maker, returned to Indonesia in April 2020 after his Japanese work visa expired. Three months before he departed, he proposed to Ms. Hirose during an outing to the DisneySea amusement park near Tokyo.

Ms. Hirose had booked a flight to Jakarta for that May so that the couple could marry, but by then, the borders were closed in Indonesia.

“Our marriage plan fell apart,” Mr. Dery, 26, said by telephone from Jakarta. “There’s no clarity on how long the pandemic would last.”

Just last week, Mr. Dery secured a passport and was hoping to fly to Japan in February or March.

Upon hearing of Japan’s renewed border closures, he said he was not surprised. “I was hopeful,” he said. “But suddenly the border is about to close again.”

“I don’t know what else to do,” he added. “This pandemic seems endless.”

Reporting was contributed by Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue in Tokyo; Dera Menra Sijabat in Jakarta, Indonesia; Richard C. Paddock in Bangkok; John Yoon in Seoul; Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan; and Yan Zhuang in Sydney, Australia.

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Japan’s Communists Are Hardly Radical, but Make a Handy Election Target

TOKYO — The Japan Communist Party is the oldest political party in the country. It’s the largest nonruling Communist party in the world. It’s harshly critical of China. And the Japanese authorities list it, along with ISIS and North Korea, as a threat to national security.

To many in Japan, that comparison seems exaggerated. The party, which long ago abandoned Marx and Lenin and never really had time for Stalin or Mao, is about as radical as a beige cardigan: antiwar, pro-democracy, pro-economic equality.

But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a primary target of Japan’s dominant political force, the Liberal Democratic Party, ahead of parliamentary elections on Sunday that will help set the country’s path out of the pandemic.

Though clocking in at only 3 percent support in the polls, the Communists have become a handy boogeyman after teaming up with Japan’s leading opposition parties for the first time in an effort to dethrone the L.D.P. The Communists agreed to withdraw their candidates from several districts to avoid splitting the liberal vote.

C.I.A. — carried out heavy-handed crackdowns on the group, which briefly flirted with political violence and became a rallying point for anti-American student protests.

Despite its name, the J.C.P. has largely abandoned its roots in favor of its own homegrown ideology. It broke with the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s and has recently become one of Beijing’s most vocal Japanese critics, denouncing its neighbor for following the path of “hegemony” and violating human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. When the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, the J.C.P. was the only major Japanese party not to send congratulations.

Still, Japan’s National Police Agency has continued to treat the group as a menace. In its annual report on threats to the nation, it lumps the J.C.P. in with the Islamic State, North Korea and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that killed 13 and injured thousands during a 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

The Japan Communists, the police note, are rapidly aging, losing their financial resources — mostly generated by subscriptions to their newspaper, Akahata, or Red Flag — and are having difficulty attracting new members.

The agency is not clear about what actual threat the group poses. It does note that the Communists were planning to join other opposition parties to challenge the L.D.P., and that they had “added ‘gender equality’ and ‘a nuclear-power-free Japan’” to their platform. (The J.C.P. runs more female candidates than nearly any other Japanese party.)

Both of those initiatives are opposed to some extent by the Liberal Democrats — who, for example, have rejected legislation to allow women to keep their last names after marriage — even though they are popular with the general public.

But those are not among the top issues for voters in the coming election. Their priorities are clear: keeping the coronavirus in check and putting the pandemic-ravaged economy back on track. Neither of these are necessarily winning issues for the L.D.P., which, though unlikely to lose, faces a strong risk of emerging from the election seriously weakened.

Japan is reporting just a few hundred Covid-19 cases each day, and vaccination numbers have surpassed those of most other countries, despite a slow start. Nevertheless, there is a sense that the governing party mismanaged the crisis, fumbling the national vaccine rollout and delaying the country’s recovery. Stories of coronavirus patients dying at home despite ample supplies of hospital beds have further hardened public opinion.

Current economic policies, which have failed to lift the country out of stagnation, are also unpopular — so much so that Fumio Kishida, who became prime minister this month after winning an L.D.P. leadership election, ran against them. Mr. Kishida promised that he would confront growing inequality through a (very socialist-sounding) program of wealth redistribution.

He has since walked back those promises and looks set to continue his predecessors’ policies largely unchanged.

The threat that the Japan Communist Party poses to the L.D.P. may come not from its size — the Communists have never gained more than 13 percent of the vote in a lower house election — but from its members’ dedication. The J.C.P., which has a highly organized base, could play a big role in drawing votes to the opposition, said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University.

“It’s an organization that has the power to gather ballots” he said.

In focusing attention on the Japan Communists, the L.D.P. and its governing partner, Komeito, are betting that voters’ distaste for big “C” communism and fear of a rising China will drive them away from the opposition coalition, said Taku Sugawara, an independent political scientist.

“Until recently, as far as the L.D.P. was concerned, the Communists were just a group that got in the way of the other opposition parties,” he said. “But now that they’re clearly a threat, they’ve become a prominent target of criticism.”

Although there is widespread consensus in Japan that Beijing’s growing power poses a threat to regional stability, the L.D.P. and J.C.P. are split over how to deal with it.

The Liberal Democrats have called for doubling military spending, increasing defense cooperation with the United States, and changing Japan’s pacifist constitution to give it, among other things, the ability to carry out first strikes against adversaries that threaten national security.

The Japan Communists, however, prefer a diplomatic approach and are strongly opposed to the substantial American military presence in Japan, a position that makes it an outlier among Japanese political parties.

During a recent rally in front of the bustling Shinjuku station in central Tokyo, candidates for Komeito warned a small group of potential voters that the differing views of the J.C.P. and its political partners on national defense would make it impossible for them to govern competently.

(The hawkish L.D.P. and its dovish coalition partner have themselves long been at odds over whether to increase military spending or alter Japan’s constitution to remove its prohibition against waging war. And Komeito is notorious for its reluctance to criticize Beijing.)

The Japan Communists have said that their differences with other opposition parties would have no bearing on a new government. The Communists say they won’t seek any role if the opposition topples the L.D.P.

But it’s hard to say what would actually happen if the opposition somehow won power, Mr. Iwai, the political science professor, said.

None of the coalition members “actually think they’re going to win,” he said. So when it comes to discussions of what’s next, “No one’s thought that far.”

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Long Arm of Russian Law Reaches Obscure Siberian Church

ABODE OF DAWN, Russia — High on a hilltop bathed in the autumnal colors of pine, birch and larch trees, Aleksei Demidov paused for a few minutes of quiet prayer. He was directing his thoughts to his religious teacher, known as Vissarion, hoping he might feel his energy.

As he prayed, a cluster of small bells rang out from a spindly wooden gazebo. They belonged to the Church of the Last Testament, founded in 1991 by Vissarion. Except then his name was Sergei Torop, and he was just a former police officer and an amateur artist.

These days, Mr. Demidov and thousands of other church members consider Vissarion a living god. The Russian state, however, considers him a criminal.

dramatic operation led by federal security services. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top federal prosecutorial authority, accused them of “creating a religious group whose activities may impose violence on citizens,” allegations they deny.

A year later, the three men are still being held without criminal indictment in a prison in the industrial city of Novosibirsk, 1,000 miles from their church community. No trial has been scheduled.

Since taking power at the turn of the century, President Vladimir V. Putin has gone to great lengths to silence critics and prevent any person or group from gaining too much influence. He has forced out and locked up oligarchs, muted the news media and tried to defang political opposition — like Aleksei A. Navalny.

outlawed in 2017 and declared an “extremist” organization, on par with Islamic State militants.

Though there are accusations of extortion and mistreatment of members of the Church of the Last Testament, scholars and criminal justice experts say the arrest of Mr. Torop underscores the government’s intolerance of anything that veers from the mainstream — even a small, marginal group living in the middle of the forest, led by a former police officer claiming to be God.

“There is an idea that there is a defined spiritual essence of Russian culture, meaning conservative values and so on, that is in danger,” said Alexander Panchenko, the head of the Center for Anthropology of Religion at the European University at St. Petersburg, who has been asked to serve as an expert witness in an administrative procedure that could strip the church of its legal status as a church, an act that he said was based on “false accusations.”

“Somehow the new religious movements are now dangerous as well,” Mr. Panchenko said.

told Russian state-owned media that while there was no requirement to donate money, it was encouraged.

She said that some food items were banned and that seeking medical care was difficult. The church drew notice in 2000 when two children died because the community is so remote that they could not get medical help in time. But Ms. Melnikova also said that conditions had softened since the early days.

The accusations come from a vague Soviet-era law used to punish nonregistered groups like Baptists, evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Lunkin said. The prosecutors’ office did not respond to messages seeking information about the status of the case.

In interviews last month with more than two dozen church members, none said that they had been mistreated or strained financially, and all that they could come and go freely for work or school. They said the church did not impose a financial burden on them. When the authorities searched Mr. Torop’s home, they found only 700 rubles (about $10).

Mr. Torop and his church have not been politically active or spoken out against the government. Instead, followers believe their very independence from normal Russian life is what made their church a target. “We’ve created a self-sustaining society, and our freedom is dangerous for the system,” said Aleksandr A. Komogortsev, 46, a disciple who was a police officer in Moscow for 11 years before moving to one of the biggest villages three years ago.

“We have shown how it is possible to live outside the system,” he said, gushing over a breakfast of salad and potato dumplings about how fulfilling it was to work with his hands.

Tanya Denisova, 68, a follower since 1999, said the church was focused on God’s judgment, not politics. She moved to the village in 2001, after divorcing her husband, who did not want to join the church.

“We came here to get away from politics,” she said.

Like the other faithful, Ms. Denisova eats a vegetarian diet, mostly of food grown in her large garden. Pictures of Vissarion, referred to as “the teacher,” and reproductions of his paintings hang in many rooms of her house.

Each village where followers live, like Ms. Denisova’s Petropavlovka, functions as a “united family,” with the household heads meeting each morning after a brief prayer service to discuss urgent communal work to be done for the day, and with weekly evening sessions where members of the community can solve disputes, request assistance or offer help.

At one recent meeting, members approved two new weddings after ensuring the betrothed couples were ready for marriage.

For many of the believers, their leader’s arrest, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, is a sign that Judgment Day approaches.

Others said they felt his arrest was the fulfillment of a prophecy, comparing their teacher’s plight with that of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

Stanislav M. Kazakov, the head of a small private school in the village of Cheremshanka, said the arrest had made the teacher more famous in Russia and abroad, which he hoped would draw more adherents.

Mr. Kazakov said his school, like other community institutions, had been subjected to repeated inspections and fines since 2019, with at least 100 students as young as 8 questioned by the police. He said the arrest and intimidation by the police had made the community stronger.

“They thought we would fall apart without him,” he said. “But in the past year, we have returned to the kind of community that holds each other together.”

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Japan Faces Big Problems. Its Next Leader Offers Few Bold Solutions.

TOKYO — With the world’s oldest population, rapidly declining births, gargantuan public debt and increasingly damaging natural disasters fueled by climate change, Japan faces deep-rooted challenges that the longstanding governing party has failed to tackle.

Yet in choosing a new prime minister on Wednesday, the Liberal Democratic Party elected the candidate least likely to offer bold solutions.

The party’s elite power brokers chose Fumio Kishida, 64, a stalwart moderate, in a runoff election for the leadership, seeming to disregard the public’s preference for a maverick challenger. In doing so, they anointed a politician with little to distinguish him from the unpopular departing leader, Yoshihide Suga, or his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

Elders in the party, which has had a near monopoly on power in the decades since World War II, made their choice confident that, with a weak political opposition and low voter turnout, they would face little chance of losing a general election later this year. So, largely insulated from voter pressure, they opted for a predictable former foreign minister who has learned to control any impulse to stray from the mainstream party platform.

slowly emerges from six months of pandemic restrictions that have battered the economy.

Taro Kono, an outspoken nonconformist whose common touch has made him popular with the public and with rank-and-file party members. Mr. Kishida prevailed in the second round of voting, in which ballots cast by members of Parliament held greater weight than ballots cast by other party members.

He will become prime minister when Parliament holds a special session next week, and will then lead the party into the general election, which must be held by November.

In his victory speech on Wednesday, Mr. Kishida acknowledged the challenges he faces. “We have mountains of important issues that lie ahead in Japan’s future,” he said.

They loom both at home and abroad. Mr. Kishida faces mounting tensions in the region as China has grown increasingly aggressive and North Korea has started testing ballistic missiles again. Taiwan is seeking membership in a multilateral trade pact that Japan helped negotiate, and Mr. Kishida may have to help finesse a decision on how to accept the self-governed island into the group without angering China.

As a former foreign minister, Mr. Kishida may have an easier time managing his international portfolio. Most analysts expect that he will maintain a strong relationship with the United States and continue to build on alliances with Australia and India to create a bulwark against China.

But on the domestic front, he is mostly offering a continuation of Mr. Abe’s economic policies, which have failed to cure the country’s stagnation. Income inequality is rising as fewer workers benefit from Japan’s vaunted system of lifetime employment — a reality reflected in Mr. Kishida’s campaign promise of a “new capitalism” that encourages companies to share more profits with middle-class workers.

close to 60 percent of the public is now inoculated. But Mr. Kishida has offered few concrete policies to address other issues like aging, population decline or climate change.

In a magazine questionnaire, he said that he needed “scientific verification” that human activities were causing global warming, saying, “I think that’s the case to some extent.”

Given the enduring power of the right flank of the Liberal Democratic Party, despite its minority standing in the party, Mr. Kishida closed what daylight he had with these power brokers during the campaign.

He had previously gained a reputation as being more dovish than the influential right wing led by Mr. Abe, but during the leadership race, he expressed a hawkish stance toward China. As a parliamentary representative from Hiroshima, Mr. Kishida has opposed nuclear weapons, but he has made clear his support for restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants, which have been idled since the triple meltdown in Fukushima 10 years ago.

And he toned down his support for overhauling a law requiring married couples to share a surname for legal purposes and declared that he would not endorse same-sex marriage, going against public sentiment but hewing to the views of the party’s conservative elite.

“I think Kishida knows how he won, and it was not by appealing to the general public, it was not by running as a liberal, but courting support to his right,” said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “So what that’s going to mean for the composition of his cabinet and his priorities, and what his party’s platform ends up looking like, means he could end up being pulled in a few different directions.”

resigned last fall because of ill health. He had led the party for eight consecutive years, a remarkable stint given Japan’s history of revolving-door prime ministers. When he stepped down, the party chose Mr. Suga, who had served as Mr. Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, to extend his boss’s legacy.

Sanae Takaichi — a hard-line conservative who was seeking to become Japan’s first female prime minister — to revitalize his base in the party’s far right, analysts and other lawmakers said he helped steer support to Mr. Kishida in the runoff.

As a result, Mr. Kishida may end up beholden to his predecessor.

“Kishida cannot go against what Abe wants,” said Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister who challenged Mr. Abe for the party leadership twice and withdrew from running in the leadership election this month to support Mr. Kono.

“I am not sure I would use the word ‘puppet,’ but maybe he is a puppet?” Mr. Ishiba added. “What is clear is he depends on Abe’s influence.”

During the campaign for the party leadership, Mr. Kishida appeared to acknowledge some dissatisfaction with the Abe era with his talk of a “new capitalism.” In doing so, he followed a familiar template within the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been adept at adopting policies first introduced by the opposition in order to keep voters assuaged.

“That’s one of the reasons why they have maintained such longevity as a party,” said Saori N. Katada, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. “Kishida is definitely taking that card and running with it.”

Makiko Inoue, Hikari Hida and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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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.

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Days Before Germans Vote, Merkel Is Where She Didn’t Want to Be: On the Stump

STRALSUND, Germany — Only days before Germans cast their ballots for a new Parliament and with it a new government and leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel was on the campaign trail this week — further proof that her conservatives are in a perilous position.

Ms. Merkel, of course, is no longer a candidate. She is stepping down and had hoped to stay away from the race. But instead she spent Tuesday in her own district stumping for the struggling candidate for her Christian Democratic Union, Armin Laschet. She even quipped about her smaller-than-average shoe size, hoping to convince voters that those shoes are best filled by Mr. Laschet.

The Green party, the unexpected early leaders in the race, are in third place at the moment.

The Social Democrats are running one of their strongest election campaign in years, marked by clear messaging on progressive issues from increasing the minimum wage to creating more affordable housing. And their front-runner candidate, Olaf Scholz, has been selling himself as the best fit for Ms. Merkel’s shoes.

shot and killed a 20-year-old gas station attendant who refused the man service because he did not wear a mask.

Speaking to the several hundred people who had gathered late Tuesday on the wet cobblestones of the Old Market Square in this city on the Baltic Sea coast, which Ms. Merkel has represented since 1990, Mr. Laschet honored the victim, then chided the several dozen anti-vaccine demonstrators who had shown up to protest the government with shouts and whistles.

“We do not want this violence,” he said. But neither his condemnation nor his pledge to increase security elicited much applause. He also didn’t manage to silence the noise beyond the barriers.

The rally was meant to shore up support for Mr. Laschet, but for townspeople and tourists alike, it turned into an opportunity to catch a last glimpse of the woman whose outsize role in their country and in Europe has influenced their lives since November 2005.

Christine Braun, a member of the Christian Democrats in Stralsund, said that Mr. Laschet would be getting her vote, but he was not the reason she was standing in the driving rain on a chilly September night.

“I came to honor Ms. Merkel, our chancellor and representative,” she said, adding that throughout her 30 years representing the constituency, Ms. Merkel would visit regularly, attending meetings and engaging with the community. “She remained approachable and down-to-earth.”

Vilana Cassing and Tim Taugnitz, both students in their early 20s, were vacationing in Stralsund and saw the posters advertising the event and Ms. Merkel’s attendance. They decided to attend more out of curiosity to see the woman who had shaped their lives than out of political interest.

They described their political leanings as “leftist-Green,” saying they would vote on Sunday, but not for Mr. Laschet.

“I think it is good if the Christian Democrats go into opposition,” Mr. Taugnitz said.

That could happen. On Sunday, voters will go to the polls, though many may have already done so, with the pandemic resulting in an unusually high number of requests for mail-in ballots — a form of voting that has been around in Germany since 1957 and that organizers assure is safe.

Should the Social Democrats emerge as the strongest party, they would still need to find at least one partner to form a government. While that means that the roles could be reversed, with the Christian Democrats as the junior partners under Mr. Scholz, more likely is a center-left alliance led by the Social Democrats together with the Greens and the business friendly Free Democrats.

Mr. Laschet has been warning against the threat posed by such an alliance, seeking to paint the other parties as a danger to the prosperity that Germans have enjoyed under Ms. Merkel.

“It’s completely wrong what the S.P.D. and the Left and the Greens are planning,” Mr. Laschet told the crowd on Tuesday, referring to pledges to increase taxes on the country’s highest earners. “They should invest and create jobs.”

Ms. Merkel instead sought to praise Mr. Laschet and Georg Günther, who hopes to win the seat in Parliament that she is vacating after 30 years, for their achievements. She expressed confidence that both men would continue the course that she had set and urged her supporters to back them.

“Several times today I have reported my shoe size,” Ms. Merkel told the crowd in Stralsund. Nodding to Mr. Günther and smiling, she said that he could “manage” to fill her shoes — European size 38, or U.S. 7 and a half. Then she turned to Mr. Laschet and added, “he is the one who can do it,” at the chancellery.

Listening from the sidelines, Thilo Haberstroh, a native of the southwestern city of Karlsruhe who was in Stralsund on business and only happened on the rally by chance, said he wasn’t convinced that anyone in the running had what it takes to be the next chancellor of Germany.

“This was interesting, but none of them have really made an impression on me,” he said. “I still don’t know who I will get my vote on Sunday.”

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