Fearing far-right surge, Merkel tells Germans to vote on Sunday

With many voters viewing a fourth term for Merkel as almost inevitable and turned off by a turgid campaign – occasionally punctured by heckling and tomato hurling in protest at Merkel’s refugee policy – pollsters say turnout may be low.

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A GMS poll on Thursday said those not planning to vote or were undecided numbered 34 percent, higher than the 29 percent who did not vote in the last election in 2013.

“My request to everyone is that they vote, and vote for those parties that adhere 100 percent to our constitution,” Merkel told MDR radio on Thursday, pointing to the AfD which has been likened by some commentators to Hitler’s Nazis.

Some of its members have called for Germans to rewrite the history books on Nazi era and the party has been dogged by rows over Holocaust denial, a crime in Germany.

0:00 SBS Chief International Correspondent talks to AfD candidate Leif-Erik Holm. Share SBS Chief International Correspondent talks to AfD candidate Leif-Erik Holm.

Although polls show conservative Merkel, trusted by stability-loving Germans to stand up to unpredictable leaders in the United States, Russia and Turkey, is on track to win, the shape of her coalition is wide open.

Most pollsters say a low turnout could boost the AfD which has gained popularity by focusing on migration and security.

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Poised to be the first far-right party to enter Germany’s parliament in over half a century, comments by some top members have caused outrage. This month, one leader said Germany should be proud of its soldiers achievements in World War Two.

Allensbach pollster Renate Koecher told Die Zeit weekly that much depended on turnout. “Willingness to vote” was strongest among conservative and AfD supporters, she said. Most undecideds were FDP, Green and Left voters, indicating that a higher turnout would help the smaller parties on the left, she said.

The two biggest blocs have dipped slightly in most polls in the last month or so while some of the smaller parties have inched up.

In the GMS survey, the AfD was up two points at 10 percent.

0:00 Martin Schulz’s SPD campaigning on ‘a future plan for modern Germany’ Share Martin Schulz’s SPD campaigning on ‘a future plan for modern Germany’

Merkel’s conservative bloc slipped one percentage point to 37 percent and her main opponent, the Social Democrats (SDP), were unchanged on 22 percent. SPD leader Martin Schulz has also urged his supporters to vote, saying “everything is still possible”.

In a highly unusual intervention this week, Merkel’s right-hand man Peter Altmaier, head of the chancellor’s office, stirred controversy by suggesting it would be better for Germans not to vote at all rather than vote for the AfD.

SPD Justice Minister Heiko Maas accused him of helping the AfD. “Telling people not to vote is helping the AfD’s campaign, that’s exactly what they want,” he said.

The latest surveys suggest coalition options are limited to another grand coalition of Merkel’s conservatives with the SPD or a three-way “Jamaica” alliance of the conservatives, FDP and Greens which could limit Merkel’s room for maneuver on euro zone reform.

“Before the last-minute mobilization efforts by parties, the only realistic coalition option, apart from a grand coalition, is one of the conservatives, FDP and Greens,” said GMS.

Both the Greens and FDP – who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum – have played down the likelihood of joining forces, fearing it would put off their voters. But on Thursday, FDP leader Christian Lindner struck a more positive note.

“One has to go into government. The FDP is enthusiastic about going into government. But only if it can implement good things. If not, then we won‘t,” he told Die Welt.

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Zuckerberg agrees to hand Russia-linked Facebook ads to Congress

News of the decision came with word that Facebook is cracking down on efforts to use the leading social network to meddle with elections in the US or elsewhere.

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“It is a new challenge with internet communities having to deal with nation states trying to subvert elections,” Zuckerberg said in a live video presentation streamed on his Facebook page.

Zuckerberg announced a series of steps that would help prevent the manipulation of the social network including more transparency on political ads appearing on Facebook.

“We’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency,” he said.

“Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook.”

Facebook earlier this month agreed to hand over information about the ads from Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the 2016 election and on Thursday decided to turn over the information to congressional investigators.

“We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election,” Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said in a blog post.

An internal Facebook review showed that Russia-linked fake accounts were used to buy ads aimed at exacerbating political clashes ahead of and following the 2016 US presidential election.

Some 470 accounts spent a total of approximately $100,000 between June 2015 to May 2017 on ads that touted fake or misleading news or drove traffic to pages with such messages, a Facebook official said.

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While the amount of money involved was relatively small, enough to buy roughly 3,000 ads, the accounts or pages violated Facebook policies and were shut down, according to Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos.

Most of the ads run by the accounts didn’t directly reference the US presidential election, voting, or particular candidates but instead appeared focused on “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum,” according to Stamos.

Ko confident ahead of New Zealand Open

Former world No.

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1 Lydia Ko says her confidence is rising as she prepares to play in the New Zealand Open next week in front of her home country, near the end of a lacklustre year.

Ko says she has taken heart from her third-place finish last week at the Evian Championship, the season’s final major.

Ko bogeyed the final hole to miss a place in a playoff as she chased her first tournament victory in 14 months.

Despite having nine top-10 finishes in 20 starts, Ko has had a difficult 2017 after making changes to her swing and changing her clubs, coach, and caddie.

But Ko believes she is coming into form in time for her national open, which will be a US LPGA Tour event for the first time.

She said in Auckland on Thursday that her apparent loss of form had been over-stated because expectations had been set too high after her long reign as world No. 1.

“I’ve been very fortunate about the things that have happened in my career so far, it’s almost like the expectation level became so high from everyone,” Ko said.

“Every player has their ups and downs and you just have to fight through it, stay positive and work hard, so that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Ko said the tour has become increasingly competitive with 20 different winners in 26 tournaments this season.

The last 10 majors have had 10 different winners and Ko will be joined by seven major winners in the New Zealand Open at Auckland’s Windross Farm course.

“The LPGA has so much talent right now that it’s tough to win, you’ve just got to keep fighting,” Ko said.

“Everyone’s so incredibly talented and all the players work so hard and that’s shown by their results. We all sort of motivate each other and that way it improves all of us.”

Trump, EU slap new sanctions on North Korea

After threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” in his first address to the General Assembly, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting foreign companies doing business with North Korea, ratcheting up pressure on Pyongyang.

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In Brussels, the 28-country EU agreed to a ban on investments in North Korea and on EU exports of oil, diplomatic sources said.

Trump said China’s central bank had ordered national banks to curb their dealings with North Korea, describing the move as “very bold” and “unexpected.” 

The threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests has dominated this year’s gathering of world leaders, but divisions remain over how to confront Pyongyang.

0:00 US may have to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea: Trump Share US may have to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea: Trump  

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop welcomed the new round of sanctions.

Ms Bishop, speaking to reporters at the United Nations in New York on Thursday, said Australia will continue to review the autonomous sanctions it has on North Korea to ensure the rogue regime is compelled to return to the negotiating table and halt its nuclear and missile program.

North Korea in recent weeks detonated its sixth nuclear bomb and has test-fired intercontinental missiles — saying it needs to defend itself against hostility from the United States and its allies.

Washington and its allies hope the tough economic sanctions will sway Pyongyang to come to the table and negotiate an end to its nuclear and missile programs.

The US administration has refused to offer North Korea incentives to open negotiations and has ramped up threats of military action to force leader Kim Jong-Un — whom Trump has dubbed “Rocket Man” — to change course.

But meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said “Why not?” when asked whether there could be a dialogue with North Korea.

Related ReadingSouth Korea warns on ‘accidental’ clashes 

In his address to the UN assembly, Moon struck a different tone after Trump’s fiery speech, saying the crisis needs to be “managed” to prevent an accidental outbreak of war.

Moon said South Korea was not seeking the collapse of its neighbor and was ready to help if Pyongyang decides “to stand on the right side of history” and halts its provocations.

“The situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue needs to be managed stably so that tensions will not become overly intensified or accidental military clashes will not destroy peace,” Moon said.

The South Korean leader nonetheless voiced support for sanctions, calling for all nations to implement the latest UN Security Council resolution that bans North Korea’s textile exports and end contracts for guest workers.

The United States has separately imposed unilateral sanctions, some of which target firms from China which is the primary economic partner of North Korea.

0:00 UN chief seeks to avoid war with North Korea Share UN chief seeks to avoid war with North Korea

But the executive order would broaden that approach, in a bid to force Chinese banks and Russian importers to decide between doing business with North Korea or being blacklisted by the United States.

“Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind,” Trump said.

At a Security Council meeting later Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was to push for strict enforcement of a new raft of international sanctions targeting North Korea’s exports and its energy supplies.

The council last week adopted the latest sanctions, a significant intensification of the punitive measures aimed at cutting off revenue used by Pyongyang to develop its military programs. But their impact hinges mostly on China. 

Merkel disagrees with Trump 

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who will also deliver their speeches on Thursday, have called for diplomatic talks and warned that military action would be catastrophic.

Commenting on Trump’s fiery speech, French President Emmanuel Macron surmised that the “military threats can serve a purpose from a tactical point of view” to jolt Pyongyang into changing course.

“When you consider him and his father, it was only when such threats were made that negotiations did happen,” Macron told reporters.

0:00 Trudeau says Canada focusing on deescalating North Korea tensions Share Trudeau says Canada focusing on deescalating North Korea tensions

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in “clear disagreement” with Trump, saying in a radio interview that “any kind of military solution is completely deficient.”

Opening this year’s gathering, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings” that could ignite a nuclear war, and called for a political solution.

Guterres is due to meet on Saturday with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho on the sidelines of the assembly to send out feelers on possible diplomatic talks.

Ri, who takes the podium on Saturday, dismissed Trump’s threats to destroy his country as “a dog’s bark” and said they would have zero impact.

Tony Abbott ‘headbutted’ by same-sex marriage supporter

Former prime minister Tony Abbott says he was “headbutted” by a same-sex marriage campaigner on a Hobart street.

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Mr Abbott said he was walking back to his hotel when he was confronted by a man.

“A fellow sung out at me, ‘Hey Tony’. I turned around and there was a chap wearing a vote ‘yes’ badge,” the former leader told 2GB.

“He says, ‘I want to shake your hand.’ I went over to shake his hand and then he headbutted me.”

Police made contact with Mr Abbott and are investigating the alleged assault.

“Tasmania Police is investigating an alleged assault on Hobart’s waterfront about 4.35pm today involving a 59 year old man from NSW,” the statement read.

0:00 Abbott describes the moment he was ‘headbutted’ by man wearing a same-sex marriage badge Share Abbott describes the moment he was ‘headbutted’ by man wearing a same-sex marriage badge

“Tasmania Police contacted the alleged victim after becoming aware of the claims and the man has tonight made a formal complaint.”

Mr Abbott said the man did not deliver a very good headbutt but he did make contact.

“The only damage was a very, very slightly swollen lip,” he said.

Post by Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott said a member of his staff who was with him then briefly grappled with the man.

“He ran off swearing his head off,” he said.

“It was just very disconcerting to find that the ‘love is love brigade’… should under the guise of wanting to shake your hand in fact tried to give [me] a so-called Liverpool kiss.

“As he was scarpering away, amidst the ‘effing this and effing that’, it was a ‘you deserve it because of all the things you’ve said’.

“It was pretty clear this was politicially motivated violence.”

Great to have @TonyAbbottMHR in Tas over last few days. Disappointed a yes campaigner would try to assault fmr PM. Must be condemned by all.

— Eric Abetz (@SenatorAbetz) September 21, 2017There is absolutely no place for violence in the marriage equality debate. This is about treating people fairly and with respect & dignity.

— Alex Greenwich MP (@AlexGreenwich) September 21, 2017This is the statement of respect that all staff and volunteers of The Equality Campaign must abide by. pic南京夜生活,/liYUVBknYI

— AU Marriage Equality (@AMEquality) September 21, 2017

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz told the ABC the incident was a reminder of the “ugliness” of the “Yes” campaign.

“Yes, I have seen the former prime minister since that very ugly and unfortunate incident. But can I say, this is not about the former prime minister,” he said on Friday morning.

“This is about highlighting, yet again, another example of the ugliness of the “yes” campaign, the slogan of “Love is love” is unfortunately shown in practice to be intolerance, not wanting people to be able to have their point of view, hold their point of view.”

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said no one should be attacked for having a different view on marriage and it must have come as a nasty shock for Mr Abbott.

“It is an un-Australian thing to do and I hope that Tony is okay,” he told the Nine Network.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop echoed that sentiment. “Violence of any form is never acceptable,” she told reporters in New York.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the attack as unacceptable. 

“I’m glad Mr Abbott isn’t seriously injured and I’ve rung him to say so,” he said on Twitter.

Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said the yes campaign was about hope, respect and unity and the debate should reflect those values.

After the incident, Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich condemned the attack.

“There is absolutely no place for violence in the marriage equality debate. This is about treating people fairly and with respect & dignity,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile The Equality Campaign said they sought the “dignity and fairness of equal status before the law for all Australians”.

“We are a campaign of respectful conversations, not angry debates, and never confrontations,” a statement said.

Mr Abbott had been in Tasmania lunching with campaigners opposed to gay marriage, including Liberal Party Senator Eric Abetz.

Mr Abbott and Senator Abetz also visited Hobart Airport to inspect the runway, which was extended as a result of funding from the Abbott government.

– with AAP

0:00 Same-sex marriage around the world Share Same-sex marriage around the world