Angela Merkel said in her last New Year’s address to the nation as German chancellor that 2020 was by far the most difficult of her 15-year leadership, yet the start of vaccinations against COVID-19 made 2021 a year of hope.
In a rare show of emotion, Merkel, who steered Germany and the European Union through the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis a year later and the migrant crisis five years ago, condemned a protest movement opposed to lockdowns and said she would get vaccinated when the shot is widely available.
“Let me tell you something personal in conclusion: in nine months a parliamentary election will take place and I won’t be running again,” said Merkel, 66. “Today is therefore in all likelihood the last time I am able to deliver a New Year’s address to you.”
She added: “I think I am not exaggerating when I say: never in the last 15 years have we found the old year so heavy and never have we, despite all the worries and some scepticism, looked forward to the new one with so much hope.”
Her message will resonate with most people in a country struggling with a rise in coronavirus infections and deaths and where a majority support lockdown measures and vaccination as the best weapons against the virus.
Praise for Merkel, a trained physicist whose management of the pandemic has been guided by scientific advice, for having tamed the first wave has however turned to criticism of her perceived failure to tackle the second.
[1/2] German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for photographs after the television recording of her annual New Year’s speech at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany December 30, 2020. Picture taken December 30, 2020. Markus Schreiber/Pool via REUTERS NO ONLINE USE.
Europe’s biggest economy holds an election in September and Merkel, whose conservatives are expected to win most seats in parliament, will most likely hand over the baton to one of three men vying to lead her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
“I can only imagine how bitter it must feel for those mourning loved ones lost to corona or who are having to fight against the repercussions of an illness when the virus is disputed and denied by some hopeless individuals,” said Merkel.
“Conspiracy theories are not only false and dangerous, they are also cynical and cruel,” she added. “I will also get vaccinated when my turn comes.”
Merkel’s fourth and last term was marked by discontent within conservatives after losses in regional elections which many blamed on her decision to welcome more than one million asylum seekers in 2015.
The setbacks at regional polls in 2018, in which conservatives lost voters to both the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the ecologist Greens, prompted her not to seek a fifth term.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Thursday criticised a prohibition on Russian soldiers wearing beards, joining Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in the two men’s latest outburst against the Russian military leadership.
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Erdogan unveils Turkey’s first astronaut on election trail
Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday after an illness forced him to cancel several days of appearances.
Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.
Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.
“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”
Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”
The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.
Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.
Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.
While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.
Israelis rally for 17th week against judicial overhaul plans
Tens of thousands of Israelis protested judicial overhaul proposals Saturday in the 17th weekly rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
The demonstrations have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and organizers plan to continue, despite Netanyahu delaying the changes last month. The leaders of the mass protests want the proposals scrapped altogether.
“We are just getting started,” read a banner that demonstrators held at the main protest in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub. Smaller demonstrations were reported in several parts of the country.
Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez voiced support to the Israeli antigovernment protesters in a video message aired on a large screen in Tel Aviv.
We as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. Yet, as many of you know, these are values that we cannot take for granted,” Sanchez said.
Protesters argue the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values, hurting a system of checks and balances and concentrating authority in the hands of Netanyahu and his extremist allies.
They also say that the prime minister has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.
Such changes would result in weakening the Supreme Court, giving parliament, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s allies, authority to overturn its rulings and limiting its ability to review laws.
The protest gained support from the military’s elite reserve force, businesses, and large sectors of the Israeli community. But on Thursday, tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support the legal
‘Total nightmare:’ As Florida insurance companies go insolvent, homeowners pay the price
Seminole county couple has three-year open claim because of insolvent insurer.
What happens when your property insurer goes out of business?
It is happening quite a bit in Florida and is leading to all policyholders paying more.
The Florida Insurance Guaranty is adding a 1% assessment to policyholders starting in October to cover claims for insolvent companies.
A Seminole County couple has lived without a fully functioning kitchen for three years because their insurer went out of business.
Sandra Braga Alfonso said what started as a leak under her sink has turned into a three-year nightmare.
She said there was already a fight with her insurer to pay out the claim, but then the company went under and it got worse.
Alfonso has a fridge and an oven but is missing lower cabinets, a stove, her normal sink, and a dishwasher.
“It has been a total nightmare,” Alfonso said.
It started in December of 2019 with a leak under her sink, she said.
She eventually discovered water in all her lower cabinets and in the sheetrock behind the cabinets, she said.
“The insurance company gave us approval to rip everything out that was damaged and now they don’t want to pay to put it back in,” Alfonso said.
The insurance company cut a check for $4,800, she said.
Of that $4,300 went to water mitigation to prevent mold. That left about $500, not nearly enough to replace her kitchen, she said.
“We’ve tried to settle, go to mediation, everything,” she said.
Finally, Alfonso and her husband filed a lawsuit against her insurer, but after two years of hearings and motions and waiting for a court date, her insurer went out of business.
She was with Capitol Insurance, but according to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Capitol was merged into Southern Fidelity, which is now one of 14 companies in liquidation.
“I’m over it. I just want my kitchen. I just want to be able to live again. I love to cook, and I can’t,” Alfonso said.
In the last year, Florida lawmakers have had three special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property insurance crises.
News 6 asked Alfonso if she thinks anything is being done in Tallahassee to help consumers with their insurance issues.
“No, it’s all for the insurance company,” she said.
One of the biggest moves made in Tallahassee over the last year is the legislature doing away with what is referred to as “one-way attorney’s fees.”
That means if you sued your insurer over a claim and won, the insurance company had to pay your attorney’s fees. Without it, Alfonso said she would never have been able to sue her insurer even though in her case, it didn’t do any good.
No. My husband’s retired. He’s on disability and he’s retired we’re on a fixed income,” Alfonso said.
Alfonso has now turned to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which handles the claims of insolvent property and casualty insurance companies.
They are still negotiating the amount it will take to fix her kitchen — more than three years later.
“I owned my first home when I was 20-something years old,” Alfonso said. “I’ve been paying my insurance premiums since I’m like 25, never filed a claim and look where I am now,” Alfonso said.
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