She was left traumatized and with chronic pain, but still continued to attend classes. By August, when Taliban soldiers entered Kabul, she was only months away from receiving her degree. But now the Taliban decree appears to have rendered her dream impossible.

“All the hard work I have done so far looks like it is gone,” she said. “I find myself wishing I had died in that attack with my classmates instead of living to see this.”

Wali Arian and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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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.

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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.

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A Million Afghan Children Could Die in ‘Most Perilous Hour,’ U.N. Warns

Millions of Afghans could run out of food before the arrival of winter and one million children are at risk of starvation and death if their immediate needs are not met, top United Nations officials warned on Monday, putting the country’s plight into stark relief.

Secretary General António Guterres, speaking at a high-level U.N. conference in Geneva convened to address the crisis, said that since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan last month, the nation’s poverty rate has soared and basic public services have neared collapse and, in the past year, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless after being forced to flee fighting.

“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” Mr. Guterres said, adding that one in three Afghans do not know where they will get their next meal.

The deepening humanitarian crisis tops a dizzying array of challenges confronting the new Taliban regime as it navigates governing a country propped up for decades by aid from international donors.

face potential collapse. At a local hospital in Chak-e Wardak, administrators have been unable to pay salaries or purchase new medicines with banks still closed, according to Faridullah, the facility’s resident doctor.

as drought enveloped the nation.

On Monday, in his first public remarks to Congress, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken defended the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying there was no reason to believe the country would have stabilized had the United States remained.

“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining,” Mr. Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a live teleconference call. “If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or 10, make a difference?”

international aid workers having fled the country out of safety concerns. Those who remain are unsure if they will be able to continue their work.

During the conference on Monday, the U.N. said it needed $606 million in emergency funding to address the immediate crisis, while acknowledging that money alone will not be enough. The organization has pressed the Taliban to provide assurances that aid workers can go about their business safely. By the end of the gathering, international pledges had surpassed the amount requested.

But even as the Taliban sought to make that pledge, the U.N.’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, also speaking in Geneva, said Afghanistan was in a “new and perilous phase” since the militant Islamist group seized power.

“In contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere,” she said, a warning that the Taliban would need to use more than words to demonstrate their commitment to aid workers’ safety.

Monday’s conference was also intended to drive home the enormousness of the crisis and offer some reassurance to Western governments hesitant to provide assistance that could legitimize the authority of a Taliban government that includes leaders identified by the U.N. as international terrorists with links to Al Qaeda.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

On Sunday, Taliban authorities sent assurances that they would facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries by road, he said.

some $12 billion in assistance to Afghanistan over four years.

While the Taliban did not have a representative in Geneva for the meeting, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy information and culture minister, said the government welcomed all humanitarian efforts by any nation, including the United States.

He also acknowledged that not even the Taliban expected to be in control of the country so quickly.

“It was a surprise for us how the former administration abandoned the government,” he said. “We were not fully prepared for that and are still trying to figure things out to manage the crisis and try to help people in any way possible.”

More than half a million Afghans were driven from their homes by fighting and insecurity this year, bringing the total number of people displaced within the country to 3.5 million, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. refugee chief said.

The danger of economic collapse raised the possibility of stoking an outflow of refugees to neighboring countries.

Said, 33, lived in Kunduz before fleeing to Kabul, where he now lives in a tent in a park. He has been there with his wife and three children for a month.

“It’s cold here, we have no food, no shelter, and we can’t find a job in this city,” he said, adding that he had not received any aid. “We all have children and they need food and shelter, and it’s not easy to live here.”

Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Chak-e Wardak, Afghanistan. Sami Sahak also contributed reporting.

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Restoration of Kabul’s Closed Airport Begins as Some Afghan Aid Resumes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s plunge into chaos, isolation and near-destitution under its newly ascendant Taliban rulers appeared to slow on Thursday, with the first significant moves to salvage Kabul’s inoperable airport, an increased flow of U.N. aid and word that international money transfers had resumed to the country, where many banks are shuttered.

But these developments did not signal any diminished suspicion toward the Taliban, the hard-line movement of Islamic extremists, many of them on terrorist watch lists, who seized power last month after two decades of war against an American-led military coalition and the government the United States had propped up.

And despite expectations that the Taliban leaders now ensconced in Kabul’s presidential palace would formally announce the makeup of a new government on Thursday, the anticipated announcement was delayed.

ended on Monday night. The airport remained closed to the public on Thursday, its hangars strewn with debris and some aircraft damaged by shrapnel, bullets and vandalism, but the Taliban permitted reporters inside, where security personnel and technicians from Qatar who had been sent to help reopen the airport were busy.

Teams of Qataris ferried back and forth in armored Land Cruisers at the airport’s VIP terminal under a giant billboard of Ashraf Ghani, the former president who fled abroad on Aug. 15 as Taliban fighters entered Kabul all but unopposed.

“The airport will open very soon,” said Daoud Sharifi, the chief operating officer of Kam Air, Afghanistan’s largest privately owned airline, which basically shut down even before the Taliban triumphed more than two weeks ago.

Western Union announced that it was resuming money transfers to Afghanistan, enabling customers from 200 countries and territories to “once again send money to their loved ones in the country.” Western Union, which had halted the transfers a few weeks ago, took the step as the U.S. Treasury Department said American financial institutions could process personal remittances.

Such remittances from the Afghan diaspora, a crucial source of income and foreign currency in Afghanistan, had basically stopped. At the same time, financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere have prevented the Taliban from gaining access to Afghan government bank reserves and other financial assets.

The dearth of cash in Afghanistan has become an acute source of desperation, seen in the lines of customers queued outside banks in the prelude and aftermath of the Taliban takeover. It also represents a quandary for the United States, which does not want to be seen as penalizing ordinary Afghans, many of them still in shock over the abrupt U.S. departure.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Despite the Taliban’s effort to project an image of responsibility in reopening Kabul’s airport, enormous challenges remain not just for that facility but for basic aviation security. Most foreign carriers are now avoiding Afghanistan’s air space, depriving it of yet another important source of income: overflight fees, which countries charge airlines for permission to fly over their territory.

Both of Afghanistan’s carriers — Kam Air and the state-owned Ariana Airlines — are crippled for now.

In a recent interview from Doha, Qatar, Farid Paikar, the chief executive of Kam Air, said his airline had been reeling from heavy losses in the months leading up to the tumult during the Kabul airport evacuation, which left two of its aircraft damaged. He also said the airport’s aviation control systems had been damaged and that many Kam Air employees, including foreign pilots, engineers and technicians, had been forced to flee.

“It will take so long to reactivate all these systems and the terminal,” Mr. Paikar said. “The international community should help us with this, but I don’t know if they will be interested.”

A former Ariana official said three of that carrier’s four aircraft had been damaged at the Kabul airport, along with many computer and aviation systems.

An interview with an airport security guard who managed to flee to Doha in the evacuation offered a vivid account of the scene the day after Kabul fell to the Taliban, basically describing it as a total breakdown in authority.

The security guard, Gulman, who identified himself by only one name for fear of reprisal, said crowds of Afghans had poured onto the tarmac, clambering to board any departing flights. Windows of grounded Kam Air planes were cracked and seats torn apart, he said.

But the biggest blow to the airport’s viability, he said, were the employees who joined the frenzy of others scrambling to leave: security guards, airline crews and air traffic controllers who abandoned their posts.

Gulman said he had arrived at work expecting to inspect bags at his scanner as usual. Instead, he found every other luggage scanner abandoned and the uniforms of his colleagues scattered on the floor.

For half an hour, Gulman said, he stood at his usual post, debating what to do before another colleague arrived and convinced him that the two of them — having gotten past the crowds at the airport gate because of their security guard uniforms — should also board a flight.

Sharif Hassan and Najim Rahim contributed reporting.

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Collapse: Inside Lebanon’s Worst Economic Meltdown in More Than a Century

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Rania Mustafa’s living room recalls a not-so-distant past, when the modest salary of a security guard in Lebanon could buy an air-conditioner, plush furniture and a flat-screen TV.

But as the country’s economic crisis worsened, she lost her job and watched her savings evaporate. Now, she plans to sell her furniture to pay the rent and struggles to afford food, much less electricity or a dentist to fix her 10-year-old daughter’s broken molar.

For dinner on a recent night, lit by a single cellphone, the family shared thin potato sandwiches donated by a neighbor. The girl chewed gingerly on one side of her mouth to avoid her damaged tooth.

“I have no idea how we’ll continue,” said Ms. Mustafa, 40, at home in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, after Beirut.

The huge explosion one year ago in the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people and left a large swath of the capital in shambles, only added to the desperation.

and the central bank unable to keep propping up the currency, as it had for decades, because of a drop in foreign cash flows into the country. Now, the bottom has fallen out of the economy, leaving shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

All but the wealthiest Lebanese have cut meat from their diets and wait in long lines to fuel their cars, sweating through sweltering summer nights because of extended power cuts.

long lines at gas stations, where drivers wait for hours to buy only a few gallons, or none at all if the station runs out.

hampered the investigation into the port explosion, and a billionaire telecoms tycoon, Najib Mikati, is currently the third politician to try to form a government since the last cabinet resigned after the blast.

Mustafa Allouch, the deputy head of the Future Movement, a prominent political party, said, like many other Lebanese, that he feared that the political system, intended to share power between a range of sects, was incapable of addressing the country’s problems.

“I don’t think it will work anymore,” he said. “We have to look for another system, but I don’t know what it is.”

His greatest fear was “blind violence” born out of desperation and rage.

“Looting, shooting, assaults on homes and small shops,” he said. “Why it hasn’t happened by now, I don’t know.”

The crisis has hit the poor hardest.

Five days a week, scores of people line up for free meals from a charity kitchen in Tripoli, some equipped with cut off shampoo bottles to carry their food because they can’t afford regular containers.

Robert Ayoub, the project’s head, said demand is going up, donations from inside Lebanon are going down, and the newcomers represent a new kind of poor: soldiers, bank employees and civil servants whose salaries have lost the bulk of their value.

In line on a recent day were a laborer who had walked an hour from home because he couldn’t afford transportation; a brick layer whose work had dried up; and Dunia Shehadeh, an unemployed housekeeper who picked up a tub of pasta and lentil soup for her husband and three children.

“This will hardly be enough for them,” she said.

The country’s downward spiral has set off a new wave of migration, as Lebanese with foreign passports and marketable skills seek better fortune abroad.

“I can’t live in this place, and I don’t want to live in this place,” said Layal Azzam, 39, before catching a flight to Saudi Arabia from Beirut’s international airport.

She and her husband had returned to Lebanon from abroad a few years ago and invested $50,000 in a business. But she said that it had failed and that she worried they would struggle to find care if their children got sick.

“There’s no electricity. They could cut the water. Prices are high. Even if someone sends you money from abroad, it doesn’t last,” she said. “There are too many crises.”

Drone footage by David Enders and Bryan Denton. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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Why Tunisia’s Promise of Democracy Struggles to Bear Fruit

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — In the 10 years since its popular uprising set off the Arab Spring, Tunisia has often been praised as the one success story to emerge from that era of turbulence. It rejected extremism and open warfare, it averted a counterrevolution, and its civic leaders even won a Nobel Peace Prize for consensus building.

Yet for all the praise, Tunisia, a small North African country of 11 million, never fixed the serious economic problems that led to the uprising in the first place.

It also never received the full-throated support of Western backers, something that might have helped it make a real transition from the inequity of dictatorship to prosperous democracy, analysts and activists say. Instead, at critical points in Tunisia’s efforts to remake itself, many of its needs were overlooked by the West, for which the fight against Islamist terrorism overshadowed all other priorities.

Now, as Tunisians grapple with their latest upheaval, which began when President Kais Saied dismissed the prime minister and suspended Parliament over the weekend, many seem divided on whether to condemn his actions — or embrace them.

terrorism and the pandemic, Mr. Kaboub said.

overthrew the country’s authoritarian president of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

But Western officials were obsessively focused on the Islamists — namely the Ennahda, or Renaissance, party that swept early elections — and where they were going and what they represented.

“In conversations, those sorts of questions ate up almost all the oxygen in the room,” Ms. Marks said. “It was almost impossible to get anybody to ask another question.”

awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 — to the point that it became a “fetish,” she said.

After the 2011 revolution, Al Qaeda and other extremists were quick to mobilize networks of recruits.

Terrorism burst into the open in 2012 when the U.S. Embassy in Tunis came under attack from a mob. Over the years that followed, extremist cells carried out a string of political assassinations and suicide attacks that shattered Tunisians’ optimism and nearly derailed the democratic transition.

training and assisting Tunisian security forces, and supplying them with military equipment, but so discreetly that the American forces themselves were virtually invisible.

By 2019, some 150 Americans were training and advising their Tunisian counterparts in one of the largest missions of its kind on the African continent, according to American officials. The value of American military supplies delivered to the country increased to $119 million in 2017 from $12 million in 2012, government data show.

The assistance helped Tunisia defeat the broader threat of terrorism, but government ministers noted that the cost of combating terrorism, while unavoidable, burned a larger hole in the national budget.

But it is the structure of the economy that remains the root of the problem, Mr. Kaboub said. All of Tunisia’s political parties have identical economic plans, based on World Bank and International Monetary Fund guidelines. It was the same development platform used by the ousted president, Mr. Ben Ali, Mr. Kaboub said.

“Right now,” he said, “everybody in Tunisia is begging for an I.M.F. loan, and it is going to be seen as the solution to the crisis. But it is really a trap. It’s a Band-Aid — the infection is still there.”

Lilia Blaise contributed reporting from Tunis.

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