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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party won the national election on Sunday by a clear margin. But they scored their worst result in almost 70 years, as the AfD had a night to remember.


We're packing it in for the evening. Just like the campaigning itself, German elections are over with much less fuss than those in the UK and US... except for the fact that coalition building could take months.


Exit Polling shows Angela Merkel is set to become German Chancellor for a fourth time, as her party won a double-digit victory over their nearest rival. She seems pleased with the result, describing it as a good result after "an incredibly difficult legislative period."


The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) scored a better-than-expected result in the exit polls, set to win 13 percent or higher and thus become the third largest party in the Bundestag.

Polling stations closed at 6pm, and exit polls immediately showed the Social Democrats (SPD) had slumped to a historic low in support.
The SPD have already ruled out joining another coalition, something other parties have called irresponsible.

The only other possible coalition is Merkel's Union joining up with the Free Democrats and the Greens. But big ideological differences between the parties mean we might not have a new government until the new year.


9.20 - Merkel ‘optimistic’ she can build coalition before Christmas

There was no love lost between the Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP) during the ARD TV round table, with FDP man Christian Lindner accusing the Greens of being idealistic and not realistic. Green party head Katrin Göring-Eckardt replied that she would put the environment at the centre of any coalition agreement, adding that she saw little common ground with the FDP. If a coalition is to be built though, it will most likely involve these two parties.

But Merkel finished the show by saying that she was “optimistic” she could build a coalition by the end of the year.

“Power lies in calmness,” she said, repeating the idea she had put across through the evening i.e. that when all the parties had had a good night's sleep they would see everything differently.

thelocal.de

If the biggest concerns of Mr.Trump`s victory last November were how to prevent him from rolling back the gains of the previous administration, destabilizing American democracy and the world order, addressing them has so far been most effectively done by president Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Trump's shocking defeat of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put the future of a number of his predecessor`s legislative accomplishments and executive decisions including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a host of regulations that protected the environment and labor on a shaky ground. But the biggest threat was to the Affordable Care Act - also known as Obamacare - which was passed in 2010 by the Democrats and signed into law by then President Barack Obama. The law, which sets new standards for health insurance plans, creates a minimum benefit level for each plan, and most significantly prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to persons with pre-existing conditions has provided healthcare coverage to more than 10 million Americans. But by March of 2014, Republicans had attempted to repeal Obamacare more than 50 times. With a Republican-controlled House, Senate and White House following the November 2016 general election, the undoing of Mr. Obama`s signature legislative achievement looked all but done.

On the international front, the postwar world order and America's allies in Europe and elsewhere appeared destined for a bumpy ride following Mr. Trump`s victory last November. In an interview with the New York Times in July 2016, then-candidate Trump shocked the foreign policy establishment when he made U.S military support for its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies conditional on their ability to meet their financial obligations to the alliance.When asked by the Times` Sanger to elaborate on what would happen under a Trump presidency to NATO members who did not meet their defense spending obligations he stated:

If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich… We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

To his credit, Mr. Trump was not the first to sound that alarm. At a news conference in Brussels in March 2014, then President Barack Obama stated:

I have had some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending among some of our partners in NATO; not all, but many. The trend lines have been going down… but the situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn’t free and we’ve got to be willing to pay for the assets, the personnel, the training that’s required to make sure that we have a credible NATO force and an effective deterrent force. And this can’t just be a U.S. exercise or a British exercise or one country’s efforts; everybody’s going to have to make sure that they are engaged and involved.

A goal set by NATO is for each member to spend at least 2% of its GDP on its own defense every year. That goal is currently being met by only 5 of the 28 members including the United States, Britain, Estonia, Greece, and Poland. But while Mr. Obama was talking about the importance of meeting the minimum 2% goal for the sake of the credibility and effectiveness of NATO, Mr. Trump made it a condition for US military defense of a NATO ally which is a clear violation of the collective defense clause or  Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.  And unlike the Republican nominee, his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton did not hold such position, thereby making his candidacy and election the more worrisome for America's NATO allies.  

Also at stake following the election of Mr. Trump on the international front was the future of free trade. As a candidate for president, Mr. Trump was opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and it was one of the few topics on which he and Mrs. Clinton were in agreement. But unlike Mrs. Clinton who once called the agreement the gold standard of free trade agreements, Mr. Trump`s position was consistent with his long-held belief that free trade with other countries - especially China - was bad for America. If it was ever likely that one of them would change his or her mind once in office, it was not Mr. Trump. His election, therefore, signaled the end of free trade as it was known.

On other issues including climate change and the use of nuclear weapons, Mr. Trump's position frightened both America`s allies and adversaries. He once called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese in order to ``make US manufacturing non-competitive`` and as a candidate he promised to ``cancel`` the Paris climate accord. On  nuclear weapons,  then-candidate Trump reportedly asked a foreign policy expert ``if we have them, why can't we use them?``

But the threats to Obamacare, DACA, free trade, the environment, NATO and American democracy and global leadership that was signaled by Mr. Trump's election last November have so far been most effectively mitigated by... president Trump. Obamacare remains unrepealed after a third try this year and DACA is still in place and will likely be regardless of whether or not Congress do something about it over the next 5 months. Following Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, a coalition of 227 American cities and counties and about 1,650 businesses and investors known as America's pledge has since moved to uphold the United States commitment to the accord. The United States remains committed to NATO and its NATO allies despite president Trump`s tough talk. While TPP is dead, the much-touted trade war with China has not materialized. Mr. Trump's travel ban is currently being challenged in the courts. Last month, the president was openly rebuked by his own secretary of defense James Mattis in an impromptu speech to U.S troops stationed overseas and following Mr. Trump's comments on the white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated in an interview with Fox News that `` the president speaks for himself`` and presumably not for the country. His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has repeatedly and openly contradicted her boss on a number of foreign policy issues including Russia. The open rebukes and contradictions by the president's top officials have more than likely had the effect of reassuring America`s allies that Trump`s position is not necessarily the country`s position; shocking! And remember that wall that he was going to build with pesos?

No doubt his own appointees, the courts and the public which stood up against his agenda in town hall meetings across the country have assisted in stalling the Make America Great Again agenda. But it is becoming increasingly more difficult to deny that the main reason why president Trump has so far been unable to get anything done legislatively is primarily because of... president Trump.

Since he became president, many have attempted to clinically diagnose his mental stability or lack thereof. I resist from doing that since I am but a psychiatrist. However, I think it appropriate to judge Mr. Trump based on his public records from which two things are apparent: Mr. Trump cares mostly about Mr. Trump and he is shameless.

From the allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped him and the FBI covered up for Hillary Clinton to George W. Bush knowingly lied about weapons of mass destruction and the attacks on the so-called enemy of the American people - i.e. the media - and the judiciary , Mr. Trump has placed himself above the presidency and appears prepared to settle personal scores even at the cost of delegitimizing the most vital institutions of democratic governance.

In his defense, president Trump is not the first president or presidential candidate to criticize the press, past presidents or even the judiciary. A politician who is fully content with the press is no politician at all. Mr. Obama was critical of President George W. Bush both as a presidential candidate and as president. Mrs. Clinton was also critical of the FBI`s handling of her email investigation. But Mr. Trump's attacks are demonstrably different. His repeated attacks on the security agencies, the judiciary, and the press, for example, are intended not to merely point out specific flaws in individual actions or decisions but to destroy the very credibility of those institutions.

Mr. Trump's attacks are also different in another regard; they are largely founded in untruths. For instance, the allegation that Mr. Obama wiretapped him was found by his own justice department to be untrue. The allegation that the press falsely misrepresented the size of his inauguration crowd or the character of the white supremacists in the Charlottesville rally is not corroborated by any evidence. According to the New York Times, Mr. Trump told public lies or falsehoods every day for his first 40 days in office. If his frequent attacks on  the credibility of government institutions are characteristic of an individual who either does not understand the importance of trust in public institutions to the health of a democracy or simply does not care, his untruths and the frequency and ease with with he tells them are characteristic of an individual who has no shame; why else would his press secretary on his first full day in office lie about something as trivial in the grand scheme of things as the size of his inauguration crowd, something that can be easily proven as false by anyone with a smartphone or a computer?   

The president has been unable repeal Obamacare likely because he was too busyattacking the same Republicans in Congress with the votes to do so: He could not pull all of the United States out of the Paris agreement because his track record proves he has no credibility on the issue and cannot be trusted to come up with an alternative measure that is better for both the environment and for American workers; his travel ban has faced serious resistance in the courts because he cannot avoid contradicting himself on the internet and likely because of his attacks on the judiciary; he cannot abandon NATO  and America`s commitment to the bloc when his top officials do not even consider his views as representative of the views of the United States; his administration has been a theater of leakslikely because of his attacks on the security agencies and his own top officials continue to rebuke and depart from his position because they do not take him seriously.  

Other presidents have also encountered serious difficulties getting things done, but not when they controlled both the House and the Senate. At this stage eight years ago, President Obama and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate were well on their way to passing the Affordable Care Act. Outside of the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch, the Trump administration has no other major legislative accomplishment to boast of and the road ahead looks all but promising.

Furthermore, the fear that Trump`s rise would energize right-wing movements and parties across Europe has not fully materialized. In France, Marine Le Pen of the Far Right National Front party was strongly rejected by French voters earlier this year. In Germany however, the far right Alternative for Deutschland (AFD) did quite well with 12.6% of the total votes in last weekend's election, making it the third largest political party in Germany. Yet it is my belief that the right-wing movements in Europe would have been much more energized and both Le Pen and the AFD would have done far better had the Trump presidency been effective.

But so far, it has not been the Geniuses of Madison and Jefferson or the unstoppable force of the resistance movement that has mostly stalled Trumpism across Europe and the Make America Great Again agenda at home; it has mostly been Mr. Trump himself, a strange ally to his own resisters.

 By: Mohammed Adawulai
 TopAfric Media Network

"I was owned by Johnson Bell and born in New Orleans, in Louisiana." Those words were spoken by a man named Frank Bell. He said that according "to the bill of sale, I'm 86 years old." His words, and those of thousands of other American citizens, were transcribed in the 1930s, at the depth of the Great Depression.

As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to restart the economy, the Works Progress Administration was founded, and one arm of the WPA was something called the Federal Writers' Project.

Men and women were hired by the government to work on various assignments documenting American history and American life. One of those assignments, vast in scope, came to be known as the Slave Narratives


"If a woman was a good breeder she brought a good price on the auction block," said Hattie Rogers, a North Carolina resident, when she was interviewed in 1937. "The slave buyers would come around and jab them in the stomach and look them over and if they thought they would have children fast they brought a good price."

We are in the midst of Black History Month. The slave years in the United States were not only black history, they were American history -- the ugliest and most indefensible chapter.

I had long heard of the Slave Narratives, but had never read them. The original interviews comprised 17 bound volumes in the Library of Congress, filled with the firsthand accounts of more than 2,000 former slaves, and hundreds of photographs.

The interviewers were sent to 17 states, and that is how the printed conversations are bound and arranged. I have been reading two volumes -- covering interviews done in North Carolina and in Texas.

What is so shattering is the matter-of-fact tone of what the former slaves said. The United States was well into the 20th century by the time the interviews were conducted; automobiles had come to the nation, as had radio and motion pictures and air travel.

The country, in many ways, was beginning to resemble the nation we live in now. Yet residing in America's cities and towns were men and women who recalled being sold at auction, of seeing brothers and sisters led away in chains, of having -- in their words -- "good owners" or "cruel masters."

Survivors of a time when, in many states, it was perfectly lawful for human beings to own other human beings, and to buy and sell them.

Mary Armstrong, 91 and living in Houston when she was interviewed, said the person who owned her family was "so mean he never would sell the man and woman and (children) to the same one. He'd sell the man here and the woman there and if (there were children) he'd sell them someplace else."

Charity Riddick, 80, interviewed in North Carolina, had a similar memory. "I belonged to Madison Pace in slavery time," she said. She had a brother whose first name was Washington, she said, but he was "sold away." Their mother "cried a lot about it."

The former slaves who were still alive in the 1930s were, of course, the youngest of those who were enslaved before emancipation. Many of them were relating childhood or adolescent memories, while others were passing on what their parents related to them.

There were many, however, who were old enough to have vivid firsthand recollections of specific instances. Stearlin Arnwine, who was 94 and living near Jacksonville, Texas, when he was interviewed, said he would see slaves on the auction block, stripped to the waist for inspection by potential buyers. Women and their children, he said, would be crying and begging "not to be separated," but it did no good: "They had to go."

As anguishing as are the stories recounted by the former slaves, troubling in a different way was the methodology many of the interviewers chose in committing the stories to written form. Most of the writers were white; in the 1930s, apparently it was still considered acceptable to use crudely rendered dialect in recreating on paper the speech patterns of African-Americans.

That is how some of the writers transcribed the interviews, and in many cases it comes off as something close to mockery, whether or not it was intended that way.

The power of the stories overrides everything else. The quiet starkness of the telling:

"My father was a slave, A.H. Stewart, belonging to James Arch Stewart, a slave owner, whose plantation was in Wake County," said Sam T. Stewart, 84, interviewed in North Carolina in June 1937.

"When I was two years old James Arch Stewart sold my father to speculators, and he was shipped to Mississippi. I was too young to know my father."

You can read from the volumes for hours at a time, and when you are finished for the evening you can look around you and try to comprehend that all of this was taking place in the same nation where we live today.

Alex Woods, of Raleigh, North Carolina, born on May 15, 1858, said that as a boy he saw slaves being marched on their way to the auction block, each person chained to the one next to him, and, as he witnessed this, being "afraid my mother and father would be sold away from me."

Story after story after story. Henry H. Buttler, 87, living in Fort Worth in the 1930s but born a slave in Virginia:

"The plantation consisted of about 30 acres, with about 30 slaves, though this number varied and sometimes reached 50. Mr. Sullivan owned my mother and her children, but my father was owned by Mr. John Rector, whose place was adjacent to ours."

And, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that this must no longer be permitted to go on, millions of Americans said that he was dead wrong.

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats on Sunday elected Andrea Nahles, a combative and outspoken former labour minister, as the first woman leader of the 155-year-old party.
Known for her lectern-thumping speeches and occasional outbursts of child-like humour, the 47-year-old single mother joins Chancellor Angela Merkel at the top of German politics -- and as the woman who may one day seek her job.
"We're breaking through the glass ceiling in the SPD," said Nahles at the delegates' meeting in the city of Wiesbaden. "And the ceiling will stay open."
Well-connected within her party, Nahles, a former leader of its Jusos youth wing, won 66 percent of the vote, beating Simone Lange, 41, an ex-policewoman and mayor of the city of Flensburg.
The less than stellar result against an outsider reflected lingering resentment within the party against the decision, strongly promoted by Nahles, to once more govern as junior partners to Merkel's conservatives.
Electing a female leader is "a sign of progress that was long overdue," said the SPD's outgoing interim leader, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who called it "a historic moment". In the lead-up to the vote, well-wishers had ironically expressed hope that Nahles would do worse than her predecessor Martin Schulz.
A repeat of his 100-percent party backing last year amid a euphoric "Schulz hype" would be seen as a bad omen given that in the end, he scored just 20.5 percent in the September 2017 general election, the party's worst post-war result.

While Schulz's roller-coaster ride in German politics has shuddered to a halt, the task of revitalising the dispirited SPD now falls to Nahles.
A survey last week by Infratest dimap found that 47 percent of respondents doubted that the party veteran is the right person to lead a "renewal", while just one third expressed confidence.
The challenge for her labour party now will be to at once govern responsibly with Merkel, and convince its dwindling band of working-class voters that it is still their champion.
Nahles vowed that the SPD will fight for social justice and welfare, declaring that "solidarity is what is most lacking in the globalised, neoliberal, turbo-digitalised world".
She pledged a fight for decent wages as technology destroys traditional jobs, and a pro-EU foreign policy that also emphasises pacifism and international cooperation.
Nahles, from the party's left wing, scored some landmark successes under the previous Merkel coalition government, notably in introducing a minimum wage.
When voters declined to reward the SPD for such gains, the party initially vowed a muscular fight from the opposition benches.
Nahles at the time summed up the SPD's combative spirit against the Merkel government with a street brawler's phrase, telling journalists that "from tomorrow we'll smack 'em in the face".
When it turned out the SPD would likely rejoin Merkel after all, but drive a tough bargain in the process, she used a kindergarten taunt that loosely translates as "na-na na-na boo-boo".
It was not out of style for Nahles, who once mocked Merkel's party in the Bundestag with a slightly off-key rendition of the reality-denying theme song of Swedish children's book hero Pippi Longstocking.
While some find such performances grating, few underestimate Nahles, who, like Merkel, is considered a sharp strategist, hard worker and bareknuckle political operator.
When she invigorated her party with a passionate speech in January, the tabloid-style Bild daily paid her the questionable compliment of being "the only real guy" in the SPD.
Nahles, the daughter of a bricklayer, hails from a small village in the rural Eifel region where she still lives in her great-grandparents' farmhouse with her young daughter.
A church-going Roman Catholic, she has described herself as a conservative at heart, albeit one who fights for working-class people.
Nahles wrote in her high school yearbook that one day she wanted to be "either a housewife or chancellor".
She founded her party's first chapter in her home village and, while studying German language and literature, joined the SPD youth wing, which she headed from age 25.
In her career since, she has been a key figure in several crucial power plays and fought former chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Agenda 2010 welfare cuts, telling him she had no time for "political machos".
Most recently she sidelined the two men who had dominated the SPD, Schulz and former foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel. Both are now watching German politics from the parliamentary backbenches.

The Local.de

The Russian valley of Oymyakon is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the world, with the average temperature for January standing at -50C.

The village is located around 750 metres above sea level and the length of a day varies from 3 hours in December to 21 hours in the summer. But locals are hardened to the weather and unlike in other countries - where a flurry of snow brings things grinding to a halt - Oymyakon's solitary school only shuts if temperatures fall below -52C.

Source: MailOnline

Russia will expel four German diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Berlin ordering four Russian agents to leave Germany over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, the German foreign minister said on Friday
"This decision by Moscow is not a surprise," said German foreign minister Heiko Maas in a statement. Germany joined the US and other EU nations in expelling Russian envoys to show support for Britain which has blamed Russia for the nerve agent attack on its soil.
The Russian foreign ministry on Friday afternoon summoned the heads of missions from 23 countries -- almost all of them European Union member states -- to tell them that some of their diplomats had to leave.
   
The diplomats from France, Canada, Germany, Australia and other countries were earlier seen arriving at the Russian foreign ministry in flagged official cars.
   
France, Germany and Poland each said that Russia was expelling four of their diplomats. Among the other countries that had similarly been told to pull their envoys were the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania and Norway.
Thirteen Ukrainian diplomats should also leave Russia.
   
The moves came in retaliation for the coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats by Britain and its allies over a nerve agent attack against former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
   
"This is certainly not a surprise," Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said through a spokeswoman, referring to Moscow's expulsion of two of the country's diplomats.
   
Blok called upon Russia to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
   
The Russian foreign ministry also gave Britain a month to cut the number of diplomatic staff in Russia to the same number Russia has in Britain.
   
In Britain, the government called the latest developments "regrettable" but remained adamant that Russia was in the wrong.
   
"This doesn't change the facts of the matter: the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable," a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office said.
Russia also said it reserved the right to respond to the recent expulsion of Russian diplomats by Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro.
   
In the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin presided over a meeting of the country's Security Council which discussed the most recent retaliatory steps against Britain and its allies.
   
The Kremlin insisted it was not Russia that had started the diplomatic war with the West.
   
"Russia did not unleash any diplomatic war," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "Russia never initiated any exchange of sanctions."
   
On Thursday, Moscow had announced that it would expel 60 US diplomats and close the US consulate in Saint Petersburg after the expulsion of its own diplomats and the closure of one of its US consulates.
   
In all, more than 150 Russian diplomats have been ordered out of the US, EU members, NATO countries and other nations which are accusing Russia of being involved in the Skripal poisoning.
   
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow would respond with "tit-for-tat" measures, but they might "not only" be symmetrical.
'Get out of here'
On the streets in Saint Petersburg, passersby said they welcomed the decision to shut down the US consulate general in the city.
   
"This is great news," said Viktor Glushko, 60. "It is about time. Relations will not get worse because they were never good and we will get by without them."
   
Another man shouted: "Get out of here!" as he passed by the US consulate where staff were seen loading plastic sacks into vehicles Friday.
   
In Washington, the State Department said Thursday there was no justification for the Russian move and that the United States "reserves the right to respond".
   
"It's clear from the list provided to us that the Russian Federation is not interested in a dialogue on issues that matter to our two countries," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the expelled diplomats.
   
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Russia's expulsion of US diplomats marked a "further deterioration" in relations.
Yulia 'improving rapidly'
The hospital where Skripal and his daughter are being treated said Thursday that Yulia, 33, was "improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition", while 66-year-old Sergei remained in a critical but stable condition.
   
Britain has said it is "highly likely" that Russia was responsible for the attack using the Novichok nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, but Russia has angrily denied any involvement.
   
Russia said 58 diplomats from the US embassy in Moscow and two from the consulate in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg have to leave Russia by next Thursday.
The US consulate general in Saint Petersburg will have to be vacated by Saturday.
   
Moscow warned that it could take further measures in response if Washington "continued hostile actions" against the Russian embassy and consulates.
   
After the poisoning, Britain reacted by announcing it would expel 23 Russian diplomats, suspend high-level diplomatic contact with Moscow and not send any members of the royal family to the 2018 football World Cup hosted by Russia.
   
Russia then responded by closing a British consulate in Saint Petersburg and the British Council educational and cultural organisation.
Source: Thelocal.com

Germany's parliament approved by a large majority on Thursday, a European aid package for crisis-wracked Spanish banks that aims to prevent Spain's whole economy being dragged deeper into the mire


In the 10th German vote on European crisis measures since the debt crisis began, lawmakers voted by 473 to 97 to pass the package worth up to €100 billion to pump in much-needed cash to the Spanish banking sector.  A handful of MPs from all parties, hauled back from their summer holidays, voted against the rescue package amid unease in Germany, Europe's top economy, that it is putting itself on the hook for ever more bailouts of debt-stricken countries.

While the package received broad cross-party support, the parliamentary head of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) Frank-Walter Steinmeier said several MPs in his ranks were "totally unconvinced."  “How many rescue packages are we actually going to need?" asked Steinmeier. "It cannot go on like this."

Thirteen deputies abstained.

The vote was urgent as Madrid hopes to sign the formal agreement with eurozone finance ministers on Friday.  Opening the debate, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said "today is about giving Spain the necessary time to solve its banking problems. "In this exceptional situation, we are helping the Spanish state to battle against the overblown nervousness of the financial markets and we are therefore making our contribution to the overall financial stability of the eurozone."

In total, there were 13 rebels from Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU party and nine from her junior coalition partners - with one abstention.

There were also 14 SPD deputies who voted against the package, with two abstentions. Spain is hoping to get a first slice of €30 billion by the end of the month and has in turn agreed to a raft of banking sector reforms and EU inspections to ensure the restructuring process is effective.

Demonstrating the urgency of the rescue, a Spanish bond auction earlier Thursday resulted in sharply higher borrowing costs and lower demand, pushing rates on the secondary market up towards the seven-percent level seen as unsustainable.  The debate in Germany, which is putting up nearly 30 percent of the loans, has revolved around who is liable for guarantees.  EU leaders agreed at a summit last month that money from their permanent bailout fund could be used directly to finance banks but only once a comprehensive Europe-wide oversight body, probably under the European Central Bank, was in place.

Berlin has insisted that until then, the Spanish government is responsible for the loans - and for ensuring they are repaid. "Spain makes the application, Spain gets the money to recapitalise its banks and Spain is liable as a country for the aid," Schäuble stressed. Analysts were broadly relaxed about the parliamentary vote and it made few waves on the markets.  Economists are eyeing what could be bigger speed bump on the road towards saving the euro on September 12, when Germany's top court rules on whether the eurozone's €500 billion permanent rescue fund can be passed into law.

The Federal Constitutional Court is to hand down its judgement on a raft of challenges to the European Stability Mechanism and the EU's fiscal pact after Germany's president withheld his signature, delaying their entry into force. Observers expect the court to allow the key crisis tools to pass but may insist that Germany's parliament have a greater say in future rescue action, meaning Thursday's emergency vote is unlikely to be the last, analysts said.

AFP/hc

 

He is only eight but this trendy kid is already a step ahead of most of us in the style stakes – with a £20,000 designer wardrobe. Little Zak is covered from head to toe in top brands, including D&G, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Prada.

The only child owns more than 200 pairs of shoes and even his swimming trunks are Armani. Yesterday his mum Vicky Antonia, 31, said: “I know it must sound like I am spoiling him, but I just want him to look his best. "What is wrong with making your son look good?.”

Glamour model Vicky, who is separated from Zak’s businessman dad, has so far spent £5,000 on her son’s shoes, £10,000 on clothes and another £5,000 on accessories.

Most parents spend around £11,000 on children’s clothing up to the age of 21, a recent LV poll found, but by the time Zak is an adult, Vicky will have spent more than £50,000 on him.

Her family have begged her to cut down on her spending, but Vicky, of Epping, Essex, believes it all stems from almost losing Zak when he was a baby. He was born at 27 weeks and spent two months in intensive care with bacterial meningitis. She said: “He is my wonder child and I don’t think it is a bad thing to want to treat your son.”

Mirror

 

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Christians the world over celebrate Easter from today until Monday. Our writer MUTHENDE NDUUCU revisits the questions and different theories of the virgin birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ Let us travel back in time, 20 centuries ago and land in Palestine. It is around noon, one Friday in March, year AD 30.

A young man of about 33 years has just been frog-marched by Roman soldiers and followed by a crowd at the outskirts of Jerusalem city at a place called Golgotha. He is bleeding from many whips that have been administered by the soldiers. His head is also bleeding from a crown of thorns. He is extremely exhausted from carrying a heavy wooden cross and appears genuinely sad.

This man comes from a humble background. His mother is a peasant woman, and father, a carpenter. He was born of virgin birth and has no formal education. He has been teaching now for three years. But his teachings have been condemned by the authorities and so a few hours ago he was betrayed by one of his trusted friends, denied by another, deserted by several, arrested and subjected to two kangaroo courts.

Soon, this man will be nailed on the cross and placed between two thieves. Soldiers will mock him, spear him and divide up his clothes by casting lots. Then life will ebb out of him and thereafter his body placed in a borrowed grave. But on the third day the tomb will be empty. This will remain the most important extra-judicial killing in history. The man is Jesus Christ, son of Joseph.

The Greatest Figure on Earth

Fast forward to our times. Today, 2,000 years later, Jesus is the most influential figure and teacher of all times. The Christian religion which he founded has 2.2 billion followers. In a comment on "what was the most important year in human history?" Adrian Wooldridge wrote in The Economist's Intelligent Life magazine in 2009:

"You don't have to be a believer to recognise that Jesus' birth was the most important event in human history. Jesus inspired the world's most popular religion and plays an important role in both Judaism and Islam (population 1.65 billion and 18 million respectively). But he also shaped all subsequent secular history..."

"Two thousand years after his birth..... a third of the world population calls themselves Christians. It is such a momentous event that it makes other contenders for the most important year look feeble by comparison."

In the book, Jesus the Great Debate, Grant R. Jeffrey quotes Henry G. Bosch writing on how enormous the influence of Jesus on the course of western history, philosophy, theology and society:

"Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40 and Jesus for only three. Yet the influence of Christ's three-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 150 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble carpenter of Nazareth."

Though the Intelligent Life Washington bureau chief Wooldridge was talking about the birth date, it is however the death and resurrection of Jesus that has been more remarkable. In The Case for Christ, a Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence of Jesus Christ, Lee Strobel notes Gary Habermas:

"The resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning. The earliest Christians didn't just endorse Jesus' teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after his crucifixion. That's what changed their lives and started the church."

"Even the more skeptical historians agree that for primitive Christianity... the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a real event in history, the very foundation of faith and not a mythical idea arising out of the creative imagination of believers."

The book also quotes another scholar, JP Moreland: "It is the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities - well educated and not, rich and poor, thinkers and fearless, men and women... that is the greatness of the resurrection event."

Indeed, to Christians the world over, the brief that Jesus died and rose again three days later is at the central part, the very heart of their faith. Without resurrection, the faith would be meaningless, futile, and empty as Apostle Paul said. According to the Bible, the death on the cross and resurrection completed God's work of redemption and reconciliation which was prophesied by many prophets in the Old Testament including Isaiah more than 700 years before Jesus walked on earth.

The American singer Patricia Smith seems to have captured this picture well: "Who was Jesus out to get? The thieves and the whores. He was looking to get the lowest of the low; he was looking to help the lepers to pray for themselves. They didn't need to go to these fancy Scribes and Pharisees, and, like, bring a lamb or a gold shekel and say, "will you say a prayer for me? "He was saying if you want to talk to God, you can talk for free: mention my name - You're in."

But why would a man with such a sacred and noble mission for humanity just three years into his ministry be condemned to death? His were multiple charges: forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar; claiming to be King of Jews, wanting to destroy the temple; calling himself the Son of God and subversion.

And in this short span he had made enemies such that one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, would betray Him.

Peter, another disciple denied Him three times. After going through two mockery of trials - by the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish Council, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor - people demanded that Barabas, a murderer be released but Jesus be crucified.

The whole drama, from his arrest to death was so brutal, violent and frightening to make today's human rights activists demonstrate in the streets.

Yet this man was not a criminal. He performed great miracles that included healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons. He preached the good news using the most inspiring parables. What was wrong with the people of Palestine then? Or did they consider Jesus a demon-possessed and mad monk like the Russian Grigori Rasputin?

As some say, probably the whole scenario was an "act of God" as Jesus himself had predicted that "He would suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, killed and rise again after three days."

And perhaps this pre-determined drama was the reason there came the greatest person since creation, irrespective that most of his followers still betray and deny his teachings even today.

Of the seven billion world population, a third are his followers. Islam - the second largest religion on earth - though does not believe in His divinity or God as a Trinity. It recognises him as a great prophet, mentioning him (Isa) 29 times in the holy Quran.

Christianity continues to be a prime mover in most social-economic-political activities in the world. Many books have already been written about the life and times of Jesus and more than 40 films made.

Even so, there are many, especially scholars whom Jesus would today call "doubting Thomases," whose research have come up with many questions and different theories of the virgin birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. And therein lies the greatest mystery of this person.

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