World News Headlines: 12-20-2018

Germany (DW)

German cabinet approves skilled labor draft law; The German government has moved closer to passing a long-awaited law lifting obstacles to skilled labor from around the world. Businesses say Germany could benefit from nationalist policies in the US and the UK.Angela Merkel’s Cabinet has approved a new immigration law that German businesses have been crying out for, and which has been the subject of political debate in the country for 30 years. Three ministers appeared before the press on Wednesday to present the fruit of their tortuous inter-departmental negotiations: a law aimed at attracting skilled foreign labor that is due to come into force in 2020, but could still struggle to get past the conservative wing of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in parliament. “This is a good day for modern Germany,” Labor Minister Hubertus Heil told the assembled reporters, while Economy Minister Peter Altmaier hailed a “historic day” that proved the effectiveness of the much-abused grand coalition between the CDU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, whose immigration restrictions for asylum seekers almost ruptured that coalition in the summer, also beamed with satisfaction throughout the press conference. “We expressly don’t want skilled labor immigration into the social systems, so not into the job centers, but into jobs,” he warned.

Darknet operator gets six years in connection with 2016 German shooting rampage; A German court has found a 31-year-old man guilty of operating a platform that allowed a gunman to purchase his murder weapon. The presiding judge said the crime could not have happened without the platform.Germany’s Karlsruhe District Court on Wednesday sentenced a 31-year-old man to six years in prison for his role in a 2016 shooting spree that left 10 people dead. Presiding Judge Holger Radke described the shooting as one of the worst crimes in Germany since the Second World War. The man was convicted on charges of negligent homicide, negligent bodily harm and abetting the illegal sale of weapons and drugs.

US praises Albania for expelling Iranian ambassador; Tirana has expelled two Iranian diplomats for “violating their diplomatic status.” The two countries have been at loggerheads after Albania took in thousands of members of an Iranian opposition group in 2016.Albania expelled Iran’s ambassador and another diplomat on Wednesday citing national security concerns. Albania’s Foreign Ministry said Tirana had consulted with its international allies on the matter, adding that the two diplomats were expelled for “violating their diplomatic status.” US national security adviser John Bolton said he supported the decision. “Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania just expelled the Iranian ambassador, signaling to Iran’s leaders that their support for terrorism will not be tolerated,” Bolton said in a Twitter post. “We stand with PM Rama and the Albanian people as they stand up to Iran’s reckless behavior in Europe and across the globe.” Bolton was a key player in his president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.

Poland signs 20-year liquefied natural gas deal with US; Poland is seeking to reduce its dependence on Russia and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for its LNG supplies. The deal should provide for 15 percent of Poland’s daily gas needs over the next 20 years.The deal announced on Wednesday between Poland’s state gas company PGNiG and Port Arthur LNG, part of Sempra Energy, is just one of several the EU state has signed with US gas suppliers in recent weeks. The agreement is for the supply of 2.7 billion cubic meters (95.3 billion cubic feet)per year of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Poland over a 20-year period. LNG is gas super-chilled to liquid form for shipment by sea. The deal comes as both the US and Poland seek to limit the dominance of Russia’s Gazprom Nord Stream 2 pipeline supplying gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine’s pipeline system.

Why Bangladesh’s mainstream parties rely on Islamists; Both the ruling and opposition parties in Bangladesh are courting Islamist groups to garner votes ahead of the upcoming general elections. But why has religion become so important for mainstream parties in the country? In March, 2005, Fazlul Haq Aminee, a firebrand Islamist, claimed that no party in Bangladesh would be able to come to power at the national level without the support from the madrassahs. These Islamic schools, which are spread across Bangladesh, have at least 1.4 million students that follow the Deobandi tradition, a conservative interpretation of Islam.With the parliamentary election scheduled for December 30, the Grand Alliance (GA) and the Jatiyo Oikyo Front (JOF) are aggressively courting Islamists. Does that mean that Aminee’s “prediction” has come true?

FRANCE (France24)

Bolstered by Iran, Hezbollah ‘capable of destruction on a whole new scale’; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried Hezbollah’s development of a network of tunnels across the Lebanon-Israel border on Wednesday, describing it as an “act of war”. Netanyahu’s speech came after the discovery on Sunday of a fourth Hezbollah tunnel infiltrating Israeli territory from across the Lebanese border. Israel’s military launched an ongoing military operation on December 4 to locate and eliminate all such tunnels. But the cross-border subterranean network is merely one manifestation of the threat Hezbollah poses to Israel. Observers say that thanks to significantly bolstered manpower, resources and fighting experience, the Lebanese militant group has strengthened considerably since its 2006 war with the Jewish state.

Both candidates claim victory in Madagascar presidential election; Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana — who have each held the top job in the impoverished country before — declared themselves winners in the run-off which analysts warned was likely to draw claims of fraud. “Change is coming tomorrow, and today you can say that ‘Papa’ is elected,” Ravalomanana told supporters on Wednesday night at his headquarters, using his nickname. “Whatever happens, only one thing counts, we will win.” However, his rival Rajoelina said: “I am sure I’m going to win but we’ll wait for the official results.” The contenders, who came a close first and second in November’s first-round election, were both banned from running in the 2013 ballot as part of an agreement to end recurring crises that have rocked Madagascar since independence from France in 1960.
In the first round, Rajoelina won 39 percent compared with 35 percent for Ravalomanana. Both camps alleged they were victims of fraud and cheating.
The polls closed on Wednesday evening. The election count could be tense with the first significant results due only by next week.

Under pressure at home and abroad, Putin faces media; Russian President Vladimir Putin will face hundreds of journalists Thursday during his annual press conference, a bookend event to a year of tensions with the West and crisis with Ukraine.It also comes with the longtime Russian leader’s approval rating sliding, the first notable decline in his popularity since 2014, following an unpopular pension reform.More than 1,700 journalists are expected at the Moscow event, some venturing from Russia’s most remote corners, others representing foreign media accredited in Moscow.In the past the sheer number of people competing to attract the president’s attention led reporters to bring larger and brighter posters they thrust up from the audience. To regulate the chaos, the Kremlin this year asked the press to keep posters small so they do not block Putin from the view of photographers.

Spanish government to meet in Barcelona amid separatist protests; Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will hold a cabinet meeting in Barcelona on Friday amid tight security as Catalan pro-independence groups plan to hold protests and block roads in the region. The meeting comes a year to the day after Madrid held snap elections in Catalonia after blocking the wealthy northeastern region’s move for independence and many separatists have called the timing of the meeting “a provocation”. In protest, the powerful grassroots separatist organisation ANC, which has previously staged massive pro-independence street demonstrations in Barcelona, urged its supporters to block the streets of the Catalan capital with their vehicles. Radical grassroots group, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), also plans to meet near the palace where the cabinet meeting will be held. Its members have clashed with police in the past. “We will be ungovernable on December 21,” the group said in a tweet, accompanied by a picture of Spain’s King Felipe VI on fire.

JAPAN (NHK)

NHK has learned former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn and former representative director Greg Kelly will be released on bail. The timing is unclear.

Nissan ‘mulled paying Ghosn through holding firm’; A French financial newspaper says Nissan and Renault executives discussed a plan eight years ago to pay part of former chairman Carlos Ghosn’s salary through a Dutch holding firm. Les Echos reported on Wednesday that former Nissan representative director Greg Kelly and Renault executives considered making the payments through the holding company in the Netherlands. Ghosn and Kelly were arrested last month on allegations of underreporting the former Nissan chairman’s pay. The newspaper says Kelly and the Renault executives were concerned about the mandatory disclosure of executives’ compensation. Since 2010, listed companies in Japan have been required to disclose the names and remuneration of executives who are paid more than 100 million yen, or around 890-thousand dollars. Les Echos says it obtained an email from Kelly dated April 2010 that thanked a Renault executive for analyzing whether part of Ghosn’s compensation could be paid without disclosing it publicly. But it says the plan was never carried out because the details of the payments could be disclosed under French law. The newspaper says Ghosn was worried about negative publicity about his salary. Some Renault shareholders had also criticized his huge income.

Japan, Russia pledge economic cooperation; Ministers from Japan and Russia have pledged to step up economic cooperation ahead of a bilateral summit early next year.Representatives from the two sides met in Tokyo on Tuesday. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to visit Russia as early as January, with a view to accelerating talks on a territorial dispute. Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono referred to the upcoming summit, and called for comprehensive discussions to achieve the best possible results. Russia’s Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin said there’s room for promoting more trade between the two countries. He also said he hopes to work together to deliver specific results. Attendees also included Japan’s Minister for Economic Cooperation with Russia, Hiroshige Seko and Russia’s Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East, Alexander Kozlov.

Belgian PM offers to resign; Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel has offered to resign following the collapse of his coalition government. Michel lost the backing of the biggest party in his coalition after he signed a U.N. migration pact. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — a UN-led framework for international cooperation on immigration, was adopted on December 10. Michel’s support of the pact prompted a right-wing party to leave the coalition government in protest. Michel appealed for support from parliament for the non-binding compact, but submitted his resignation to King Philippe on Tuesday after his efforts failed. The king has not decided whether to accept Michel’s resignation. He plans to meet with political leaders on Thursday to seek a solution. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been growing in Belgium.

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