Germany mulls introducing ‘mosque tax’ for Muslims; The idea, similar to Germany’s church tax, would aim to make mosques independent of foreign donors. Germany’s government and progressive Muslim leaders have supported the idea. Lawmakers from Germany’s grand coalition government said on Wednesday that they were considering introducing a “mosque tax” for German Muslims, similar to the church taxes that German Christians pay. Thorsten Frei, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) told Die Welt daily that a mosque tax was “an important step” that would allow “Islam in Germany to emancipate itself from foreign states.” In Germany, church taxes are collected from practicing Catholics and Protestants in order to fund church activities. They are collected by the state and then transferred to religious authorities.
Germany faces hefty bill from hard Brexit, says EU’s Günther Oettinger; A messy Brexit without a London-Brussels deal would land Germany a substantial bill, EU commissioner Günther Oettinger has warned. He reckons Britain’s parliament will opt in January for a formal divorce. Oettinger, the EU’s budget commissioner, said Thursday that if Britain ended up not paying its dues into the 28-nations’ coffers in 2019 under a “hard” Brexit, Germany’s extra bill would amount to what he termed “in the mid-three digit range” of hundreds of millions of euros. The former Baden-Württemberg regional state premier and conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) told newspapers of Germany’s Funke media group that November’s draft Brexit deal could still be adopted in Westminster.
France drops probe into attack that triggered Rwanda genocide; An estimated 800,000 people were killed during the 100 days of bloodshed following the 1994 assassination of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana. Kigali accuses Paris of complicity in the genocide.
German museums ‘willing to return’ looted colonial objects; France plans to return colonial-era objects to Africa. Other former colonial nations also pondering how to deal with colonial collections. Restitution should not be the focus, a German museum director warns. Wiebke Ahrndt: Sure. But it is more of a feeling of responsibility. A large part of the collections in our museum dates from Europe’s colonial era. That wasn’t a glorious chapter in European and German history. We bear responsibility.
Congo opposition areas excluded from presidential election; Three opposition areas have been excluded from the presidential election on security and health grounds, officials said. The move is bound to inflame political tensions. The electoral commission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) said on Wednesday that it was postponing Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections in three cities until next March. Two of the cities — Beni and Butembo, located in the eastern part of the central African nation — have been dealing with an Ebola outbreak since August. The third, the southwestern city of Yumbi, was the site of ethnic violence that killed more than 100 people last week.
Romania politics: a tug-of-war between two powerful men; For the past two years, politics in Romania — which takes over the EU’s rotating presidency on January 1; has effectively been a tug-of-war between the country’s two most powerful men.The two protagonists are centre-right president Klaus Iohannis and Liviu Dragnea, head of the Social Democratic PSD party, who is prime minister in all but name.
– Liviu Dragnea, puppet master –
It was Dragnea’s deep-seated ambition to become prime minister after his PSD party won the general election at the end of 2016. But the 56-year-old was prevented from doing so because of a previous suspended jail sentence for electoral fraud. But even if he has had to content himself with only being president of the chamber of deputies, it is effectively Dragnea who pulls the strings of power in Romania. He toppled two prime ministers in just seven months, before nominating Viorica Dancila to the post in January 2017. Her detractors described her as a “perfect puppet”. Over the past two years, the slim, moustachioed leader of the PSD, the successor party to the communists, has courted voters largely in the poor and rural areas of the country with generous political promises. But he has also focused on relaxing the criminal laws to curtail the activities of country’s anti-corruption agency.
– Klaus Iohannis, firefighter –
In the other corner is Klaus Iohannis, who surprisingly beat off a PSD favourite to be elected president in 2014. Iohannis has, from the very beginning, been forced to share power with the left, whom he accuses of undermining the rule of law. Of imposing physical build, the 59-year-old likes to project an image of rigour and seriousness. He has swapped the quiet life of a mayor in the central town of Sibiu for “grand politics”. For some observers, that took him some time to master.
Prominent Chinese rights lawyer missing for three years goes on trial; Wang Quanzhang, who took on sensitive cases such as complaints of police torture and defended followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, went missing in August 2015 during a sweeping crackdown on rights activists. Most cases from that summer, known as the 709 cases for the first day of detentions on July 9, 2015, have concluded. Wang, however, was incommunicado for more than 1,000 days.
An investigation said he had “for a long time been influenced by infiltrating anti-China forces” and had been trained by overseas groups and accepted their funding, according to a copy of the indictment seen by Reuters
Romania takes EU helm amid tensions with Brussels; Romania will take over the EU’s rotating presidency on January 1 at a tumultuous time for the bloc, which is at loggerheads with the increasingly populist government in Bucharest on multiple fronts. Several crucial events will take place during Romania’s first six-month tenure in the presidency, including Brexit, EU parliamentary elections in which eurosceptics will vie for increased influence, and wrangling over the next budget. Ongoing tensions between Romania, one of the EU’s most consistently europhile countries since it joined in 2007, and Brussels may complicate things further. Romania’s leftwing government has recently begun to adopt the sort of nationalist rhetoric expounded by nearby Hungary and Poland. All three countries are embroiled in disputes with the EU over controversial reforms that critics say undermine the rule of law. Liviu Dragnea, head of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) and widely seen as Romania’s most powerful man, has slammed the EU as “unfair”, claiming Brussels is seeking to deny Bucharest the “right to hold its own opinions”.
Tokyo shares rebound to top 20000 mark; Tokyo share prices rebounded after Wall Street posted its biggest single-day gain in history. The benchmark Nikkei Average surged from the beginning of Thursday’s trading, topping the key 20,000 mark for the first time in three business days. As of 10:30 AM, the Nikkei index was trading at 20040, up around 700 points from Wednesday’s close. The broader TOPIX index was at 1,490, up 58 points from the previous close. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted the record rise following reports of brisk sales in the year-end shopping season in the United States. Investors in Tokyo appear to be buying back shares on the dip in response.
China uses facial recognition to arrest fugitives; Chinese authorities have used facial recognition technology at concert venues to arrest dozens of criminal suspects. Local media report that since April, the police have been making the arrests at concerts across China by well-known Hong Kong singer, Jacky Cheung. The security cameras’ facial recognition system reportedly detected about 60 fugitives. They were arrested on various charges, including property damage, fraud and trading illegal drugs. The celebrity’s unwitting contribution to the arrests went viral on the Internet, with Cheung being called “the enemy of fugitives”. Authorities have set up surveillance cameras throughout the country, citing a strengthening of public security. China is said to have around 170 million of the cameras, many with the ability to identify individuals. One of those arrested reportedly told police that they thought going to the concert would be risky but they wanted to the see the act. Some people in China see the arrests as a toughening up of surveillance on society by President Xi Jinping’s government.
Taiwan ends conscription; Taiwan ended its compulsory military service on Wednesday. Defense officials say they are on track to an all-volunteer military. Taiwan adopted a conscription policy in 1951 after Taiwan and mainland China split two years earlier. Men 18 years or older were initially conscripted for two to three years of service. The period was shortened to a year in 2008, due to a lower birthrate and other factors. In 2011, under the government of President Ma Ying-jeou, who pursued stronger ties with Beijing, relevant laws were revised to replace the one-year conscription with four months of mandatory military training. Ma cited a dramatic easing of tension across the strait. The government started to replace serving conscripts with volunteers. The last group of 412 conscripts was discharged by Wednesday, effectively ending the conscription system. Defense officials say they can enlist 90 percent of the 188,000 troops they require with volunteers.
Utilities ponder use of new type of nuclear fuel; Electrical utilities across Japan are considering the adoption of a type of nuclear fuel that generates power for a longer time than varieties in current use. Companies with nuclear plants that are back online keep spent fuel in storage pools. And those pools are now filling up. The spent fuel is supposed to be taken to a reprocessing facility in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture. Completion of that facility is considerably behind schedule. Against this backdrop, six utilities that use boiling water reactors have begun considering the possibility of introducing a new type of nuclear fuel that is both efficient and lasts longer. That type of fuel is widely used in nuclear plants in the US and elsewhere. Utilities that operate other types of reactors are also thinking of making the switch. But long-term use of nuclear fuel has disadvantages as well, such as degradation of the cladding covering the fuel. Utility officials say they are carefully studying the matter.