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Cities Adapt to Changing Terror Threats

On November 5, more than 50,000 runners and two million spectators turned out for the New York Marathon. The event took place just a few days after a lone attacker drove a van into cyclists and pedestrians beside a busy Manhattan highway, killing eight people.

Security was beefed up for the marathon: sand-filled sanitation trucks were deployed at key intersections to block vehicles, while hundreds of extra police backed by sniffer dogs and snipers were positioned along the 21-kilometer route.

The precautions underline the changing nature of the terror threat, 16 years after the 9/11 al-Qaida attacks on the same city.

“They are moving towards the lower technology attacks, using knives, using vehicles, and using weapons that they can perhaps purchase on the black market but not have to make themselves,” said leading counter-terror analyst Brooke Rogers of Kings College, London.

He said, beyond short-term, enhanced security, an urban environment can adapt.

“For example, by having blast-proof glass installed in these grand glass structures. Or having different security measures, physical security measures – some of that could be scanning technology, some of it could be CCTV (closed circuit television) based, but also human measures, in terms of the staff not only walking around the perimeter, walking around inside with highly visible uniforms, but also staff who are less visible,” said Rogers.

In France, thousands of extra security personnel including soldiers have been deployed since the 2015 Paris attacks. But Rogers notes they have themselves become targets for terrorists.

London has installed physical barriers to separate vehicles and pedestrians in the wake of this year’s vehicle attacks in Westminster and on London Bridge. Permanent protection has been built around government buildings, with some of it adapted into street furniture like benches. But sectioning off every walkway is simply not practical.

“The amount of engineering that goes into those can cost millions of dollars. But we have to be careful because everything that we secure means that we are then turning the attention of these terrorist groups to softer targets,” said Rogers.

As a result, more attention is being given to educating the public. Since 2010 the U.S. Department for Homeland Security has been running an awareness campaign titled, “If you see something, say something”. In London, the mantra is similar: “See It, Say It, Sorted.”

British authorities have also issued a campaign on what to do if you’re caught in a terror attack – summarized as “Run, Hide, Tell.”

Rogers says such campaigns aren’t pushed hard enough by authorities. “They’re very anxious that if they start making people think about that type of attack in the public places, that they’re going to frighten them and maybe scare them away. We have a lot of evidence that suggests that that is not the case. It doesn’t have a significant impact in terms of the perceived threat at all and in fact it builds higher levels of trust.”

Increasingly, security services see public awareness as a key line of defense against the changing terror threat.


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EU’s Top Court Orders Poland to Stop Logging in Ancient Forest

The European Union’s top court Monday ordered Poland to stop logging in the ancient Bialowieza Forest, or pay an $118,000 daily fine.

“Poland must immediately cease its active forest management operations in the Bialowieza Forest, except in exceptional cases where they are strictly necessary to ensure public safety,” the European Court of Justice wrote.

The forest is home to rare plants, birds and mammals and is one of Europe’s last remaining primeval habitats. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The court first warned Poland against logging in July.

Poland says the trees are weak and damaged by a beetle outbreak. It says cutting them down is necessary to prevent people foraging for mushrooms from getting hurt if the trees fall.

The logging argument is another in a series of a war of words between the European Union and the right-wing Polish government, which accuses the EU of infringing on its sovereignty.

The EU has said it is worried about the decline of democratic values in Poland.

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Amsterdam, Paris Picked to Host EU Agencies After Brexit

The European Union went back to its roots Monday by picking cities from two of its founding nations — France and the Netherlands — to host key agencies that will have move once Britain leaves the bloc in 2019.

During voting so tight they were both decided by a lucky draw, EU members except Britain chose Amsterdam over Italy’s Milan as the new home of the European Medicines Agency and Paris over Dublin to host the European Banking Authority. Both currently are located in London.

“We needed to draw lots in both cases,” Estonian EU Affairs Minister Matti Maasikas, who chaired the meeting and in both cases made the decisive selection from a big transparent bowl.

Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank, surprisingly failed to become one of the two finalists competing for the banking agency.

The relocations made necessary by the referendum to take Britain out of the EU are expected to cost the country over 1,000 jobs directly and more in secondary employment.

The outcomes of the votes also left newer EU member states in eastern and southern Europe with some bitterness. Several had hoped to be tapped for a lucrative prize that would be a sign the bloc was truly committed to outreach.

Some 890 top jobs will leave Britain for Amsterdam with the European Medicines Agency, giving the Dutch a welcome economic boost and more prestige. The EMA is responsible for the evaluation, supervision and monitoring of medicines. The Paris-bound European Banking Authority, which has around 180 staff members, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe’s banking sector.

After a heated battle for the medicines agency, Amsterdam and Milan both had 13 votes Monday. That left Estonia, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, to break the tie with a draw from the bowl. Copenhagen finished third, ahead of Slovakian capital Bratislava in the vote involving EU nations excluding Britain. One country abstained in the vote.

“A solid bid that was defeated only by a draw. What a mockery,” Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter.

Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra was elated.

“It is a fantastic result,” he said. “It shows that we can deal with the impact of Brexit”

The European Medicines Agency has less than 17 months to complete the move, but Amsterdam was considered ideally suited because of its location, the building it had on offer and other facilities.

Even though rules were set up to make it a fair decision, the process turned into a deeply political contest.

Zijlstra said that “in the end, it is a very strategic game of chess.”

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Analysts: Germany Political Chaos A Sign Merkel’s Power Waning

Germany has been plunged into political crisis after coalition talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and two smaller parties broke down. Analysts say the indecisive election result in September has revealed a splintering of German society and politics, posing a serious challenge to Chancellor Merkel. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the political chaos could have a much wider impact on issues like climate talks and European Union reform.

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The End of Merkel?

Germany — the most stable European Union country — was plunged into a political crisis Monday. Weeks-long exploratory talks over forming Germany’s next coalition government collapsed with all four parties involved at loggerheads over migration and energy policies as well as on further European Union integration. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel was due Monday to meet the country’s president, but it remained unclear whether she will try to run a minority government, forestalling a snap parliamentary election, or recommend heading to the polls early next year.

The news of the collapse of the talks sent the euro sliding in overnight Asian markets both against the dollar and the Japanese yen. Merkel’s difficulties come at a crucial time for the EU, which is locked in increasingly vitriolic negotiations with Britain over Brexit. 

The German Chancellor had been trying to forge a complicated coalition between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green party following federal elections at the end of September. Those elections left her ruling CDU the largest party but with a reduced share of the vote and fewer seats — thanks partly to a surge by Germany’s far-right populists.

CDU officials acknowledge that migration — the issue the populists of the Alternative for Germany built their election appeal on — was the main obstacle in the talks dividing potential partners in a so-called Jamaica coalition, nicknamed because the parties’ traditional colors are similar to the Jamaican flag.


The question of how many of the 1.2 million migrants and asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa who found their way to Germany in 2015 and 2016 should be allowed to be reunited with their families couldn’t be resolved in the coalition negotiations. On Sunday, the Green party offered a compromise whereby they would agree to limit Germany’s annual intake of migrants to 200,000 – as long as the other parties didn’t rule out that relatives of migrants already in Germany would be allowed to join them.

With migration such a contentious issue — and with the possibility of snap elections — the CDU, the CSU and the Free Democrats have appeared determined to outdo each in proposing tougher migration controls.

Merkel, Europe’s longest-serving leader, is facing renewed internal criticism of her handling of the coalition talks. As the negotiations dragged she cut a rather passive figure, according to party critics. On Sunday the embattled Chancellor said she regretted the collapse of the talks, but added she had “thought we were on the path where we could have reached agreement” when the Free Democrats decided to withdraw.

“It is at least a day of deep reflection on how to go forward in Germany,” Merkel said. “But I will do everything possible to ensure that this country will be well led through these difficult weeks.”

Falling apart

Announcing the pull-out form the talks, the FDP leader Christian Lindner, argued, “it is better not to govern than to govern wrongly.” He suggested the huddles between officials had become acrimonious, complaining, “there was no process but rather there were setbacks because targeted compromises were questioned.”

The Free Democrats and Greens also clashed repeatedly over climate-change issues and the use of coal-fired energy generation.

Social Democrat leader, Martin Schulz, whose party had been a junior coalition partner to Merkel for the last four years, Sunday once again ruled out the possibility of another so-called grand coalition between the CDU and his party, the second largest in the Bundestag. “The voter has rejected the grand coalition”, Schulz said at a party conference in Nuremberg.

With the Social Democrats refusing to enter another coalition with Merkel following their disastrous showing in the September election, the Chancellor now faces a bleak choice. She can either try to form a minority government with the Free Democrats that would be at risk of being out-voted regularly, or concede that a re-run of September’s election is necessary. Most opinion polls suggest a re-run election would produce a very similar result to September’s.

But calling a snap election risks ending Merkel’s career and preventing her from serving a fourth-term as chancellor. In recent opinion polls, most Germans surveyed say it would mark the end of her career. And before the talks collapsed overnight Sunday Bild, Germany’s largest-circulation newspaper warned: “If she fails, the turbulence arising from a failure would quickly engulf her personally.”

But Merkel has made a habit of defying expectations over the last 12 years of her leadership.

With Germany distracted, and Merkel acting as a caretaker Chancellor, crucial EU decisions over Brexit, renewing sanctions on Russia and French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for reform of the economic bloc will likely be delayed, say analysts.

For Britain, the weakening of Merkel makes it more likely that it will crash out of the EU with no deal over trade with its largest trading partner. “The collapse of coalition talks in Germany makes a ‘no deal’ Brexit a little more likely,” tweeted Fraser Nelson, editor of Britain’s Spectator magazine. 

And the political editor of the Sun, Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, Tom Newton Dunn tweeted: “Germany’s mess is bad news for Brexit. No10, perhaps inexplicably, is still holding out for Merkel’s help – but she’ll be weak and indecisive for many months now.”

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German Coalition Talks Fall Apart

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will consult Monday with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier after weeks of talks to form a coalition government fell apart with one potential partner withdrawing from the process.

“It is at least a day of deep reflection on how to go forward in Germany,” Merkel told reporters. “But I will do everything possible to ensure that this country will be well led through these difficult weeks.”

She spoke after the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) decided to exit a possible coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, along with the left-leaning Greens.

FDP leader Christian Lindner said his party opted to withdraw rather than compromise its principles and agree to policies it does not completely support.

“It is better not to govern than to govern falsely,” Lindner said.

The parties have clashed on several issues, including immigration and the environment.

With the failure of the coalition talks, Germany could be headed to new elections. Merkel could still try to form a minority government, or try to convince the Social Democratic Party to change its mind and continue as a junior coalition partner in a new government.

But the Social Democrats have said since a disappointing result in the September election that they would be heading to the opposition.

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One in 3 US Rhodes Scholars African-American, Highest Ratio Ever

One-third of the newest crop of Rhodes Scholars from the United States are African-Americans, the most ever elected in a U.S. Rhodes class.

Of the 100 Rhodes Scholars chosen worldwide for advanced study at Oxford in Britain each year, 32 come from the United States, and this time, 10 of those are African Americans. One of them is Simone Askew, the first black female student to head the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.

Other American scholars include a transgender man and students from U.S. colleges that had never had a student win a spot in the Rhodes program.

The Rhodes Scholar program is the most prestigious available to American students, but it had been criticized for excluding women and blacks until the 1970s.

The scholarship program was set up in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes, a wealthy British philanthropist for whom the nation of Rhodesia was named.  After a civil war removed Rhodesia’s white-minority government, that nation was renamed Zimbabwe.  


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Sinn Fein’s Divisive Leader Gerry Adams to Step Down

Gerry Adams, the divisive politician known around the world as the face of the Irish republican movement as it shifted from violence to peace, announced Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Sinn Fein next year after heading the party for over 30 years.

The 69-year-old veteran politician — who has been president of Northern Ireland’s second-largest party since 1983 — told the party’s annual conference in Dublin he would not run in the next Irish parliamentary elections.

“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change and that time is now,” he said, adding the move was part of an ongoing process of leadership transition within the party.

A divisive figure, some have denounced Adams as a terrorist while others hail him as a peacemaker.

He was a key figure in Ireland’s republican movement, which seeks to take Northern Ireland out of the U.K. and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

The dominant faction of the movement’s armed wing, the Provisional IRA, killed nearly 1,800 people during a failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the U.K. It renounced violence and surrendered its weapons in 2005.

Although many identify Adams as a member of the IRA since 1966 and a commander for decades, Adams has long insisted he was never a member.

Adams was key in the peace process that saw the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the formation of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Many believe Sinn Fein’s popularity among voters is hampered by the presence of leaders from Ireland’s era of Troubles.

The party is expected to elect a successor next year. Current deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was seen as a favorite to succeed Adams.

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