BREAKING NEWS: Taiwan’s premier and cabinet resign
Germany, Greece put tension in rearview mirror during Angela Merkel’s visit; Merkel and Tsipras discussed Greece’s return to economic stability as well as immigration and Macedonia. Protests, banned in hopes of avoiding scenes like during her last visit, were quelled by police using tear gas.German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Athens on Thursday to meet with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, her first such trip in four years. Her 2014 visit was marred by massive protests, as many Greeks held her responsible for the hardships they endured as part of austerity measures imposed during the European debt crisis. Speaking after their Thursday evening meeting, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: “The stereotype of the lazy Greek and the strict German are over. We are entering a new era. Cooperation between Berlin and Athens will be decisively important in the coming years.” Asked if she thought Greece would return to the global financial market, Merkel replied, “Yes, of course, my visit and my work aim at helping Greece get back on its feet so that it can finance itself on the open market.”
Hungary’s Viktor Orban pushes for anti-migrant bloc to counter France and Germany; Hungary’s Viktor Orban hopes a right-wing alliance can help gain an anti-migrant majority in the European Parliament. The alliance was pitched by Italy’s Matteo Salvini, whom Orban described as a “hero.” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday pledged his full support for an Italian-Polish initiative to form a right-wing alliance for European Parliament elections due in May. Orban said Hungary’s goal was to gain an anti-immigrant majority in the European Parliament that he hoped would spread to the European Commission, and later, as national elections change the EU’s political landscape, the European Council.
Egypt confirms second missing German also detained; Weeks after the 18-year-old’s disappearance in Luxor, Egypt has admitted it is detaining a second German citizen. The two men’s dual citizenship has made it difficult for them to receive German consular visits. One day after the German Foreign Ministry said that 26-year-old Mahmoud Abdel Aziz is being held by Egyptian authorities, it confirmed that a second man, 18-year-old Isa El Sabbagh is also being held in Cairo. The men, who were traveling separately, have one thing in common: they hold German and Egyptian passports, as their mothers are German and their fathers Egyptian. Mystery has surrounded the disappearances of the young men, who each traveled to Egypt to visit family. Mahmoud Abdel Aziz of Göttingen was detained at Cairo airport on December 27 and Isa El Sabbagh of Giessen at Luxor airport on December 17.
Romania’s EU presidency overshadowed by corruption cases; The east European state’s six-month presidency starts as its most power politician Liviu Dragnea sues the European Commission over fraud accusations. EU auditors say more needs to be done to fight fraud. Romania took control of the Council of the EU’s rotating presidency on January 1 and will be responsible for ensuring the continuity of the EU’s work until June. The former Soviet state only joined the EU in January 2007 and has been at odds with Brussels regarding the rule of law, separation of powers and corruption. This week, the country’s most powerful politician Liviu Dragnea, brought a case to the European Court of Justice in relation to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) claim that €21 million ($24.15 million) was fraudulently paid to Romanian officials from 2001-2012. The payments involved a road construction firm called Tel Drum and last November, investigative journalists in Romania claimed they found documents which linked Dragnea to Tel Drum. Dragnea was also head of a county council in the south of Romania at the time. Anti-corruption prosecutors in Romania are investigating if Dragnea set up an organized crime group with other officials and forged documents to illicitly obtain EU funds. The 56-year-old Dragnea is banned from political office because of a conviction for vote-rigging, but he still plays a major role in the country’s political life as leader of the Social Democratic Party.
Who is Felix Tshisekedi, DR Congo’s president-elect?; The wildcard opposition candidate has seemingly prevailed in last month’s chaotic election. The son of a political legend, the relatively inexperienced leader has much to prove. After weeks of uncertainty, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has been declared president-elect of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Speaking to the press early on Thursday morning, a visibly exhausted but happy Tshisekedi acknowledged his own surprise at the recent turn of events: “Nobody could have imagined such a script would seal the victory of an opposition candidate.” He went on to thank the electoral commission and express his hope that he could be a “president for all Congolese” as his supporters took to the streets in celebration. Few had predicted that Tshisekedi would emerge victorious from last month’s polls to replace outgoing President Joseph Kabila. Government-pick Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary represented continuity with the Kabila regime, while the other vocal opposition figure, Martin Fayulu, was chosen by by the major opposition candidates to run on a unity ticket. But it is Tshisekedi who is set to become the new leader of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country — barring any possible challenges to the result. The head of one of the DRC’s oldest opposition parties, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), brings with him promises of change and a deep family legacy.
DR Congo’s Catholic Church says its election tally shows different winner; In a pre-dawn announcement, the election commission named Tshisekedi, son of the country’s late veteran opposition leader, as provisional winner of the bitterly-contested December 30 vote – a surprise result his main opponent promptly denounced as an “electoral coup”. Just hours later, the Church said election results tallied by its 40,000 observers scattered across the country showed a different winner, without specifying who. “We see that the result of the presidential election as published by CENI (the electoral commission) does not correspond with the data collected by our observer mission from polling stations and counting centres,” said Father Donatien Nshole, spokesman for the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), which represents the country’s Catholic bishops.
Trial opens of Frenchman accused in Brussels Jewish museum attack; Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, who was in court, faces a life sentence if convicted of the killings in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014, following his return from Syria’s battlefields. Both Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer, a fellow Frenchman aged 30 who allegedly supplied the weapons, were due to hear the 200-page charge sheet against them in the first two days of the trial being held in a Brussels criminal court under heavy security. Accompanied by two police officers in balaclavas, Nemmouche sat down in the dock wearing an orange sweater.
Venezuela’s Maduro starts new term shunned by international community;
The country’s pro-government Supreme Court, which has largely supplanted the opposition-run Congress, swore him in following a welcome with a symphony orchestra and cheering supporters waving miniature Venezuelan flags. The ceremony contrasted with the harsh realities that face the former bus driver turned socialist leader, including hyperinflation, severe food and medicine shortages and an exodus of millions of citizens seeking to escape the hardship.
Before he had even completed his inaugural speech, the United States accused him of “usurping power,” and Paraguay announced it was cutting diplomatic ties – a symbol of the growing diplomatic isolation that he will face in the new term.
Sources: Nissan considered paying Juffali directly; Japanese prosecutors are expected to soon indict former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn on another charge — aggravated breach of trust. Friday is the last day of Ghosn’s detention period. Ghosn is suspected of paying about 15 million dollars to a company run by Saudi businessman Khaled Al-Juffali for helping him with credit guarantees needed for his personal investment losses. He was served a fresh warrant last month on suspicion of aggravated breach of trust. The money was allegedly paid through Nissan Motor Middle East, a subsidiary of the automaker. Four payments were allegedly made to a company owned by Juffali between 2009 and 2012 as sales promotion and other costs. Sources say Nissan itself considered paying the money to Juffali directly instead of to his company. But the money was eventually sent to his company after in-house inspections. Former executives of the subsidiary have told Tokyo prosecutors that payments to Juffali were a given. They say even though Nissan did not have any business with Juffali’s company, the money was paid as environmental research, sales promotion, or other expense items. Sources say there are in-house notes that logged developments leading up to the payments. A lawyer for Ghosn says his client said Juffali set up meetings with influential people in the Middle East to encourage investment in Nissan. He says the former chairman also paid Juffali 2.8 million dollars the year before he asked for the Saudi Arabian’s help with credit guarantees. The lawyer says Ghosn denies the charges, adding that the payments to Juffali were legitimate.
Taiwan’s premier and cabinet resign: Taiwan’s premier and entire cabinet have resigned. The move follows a November trouncing in local elections for the pro-independence ruling Democratic Progressive Party. In Taiwan, it is not unusual for the premier and cabinet to quit after big election losses. Taiwanese media reported President Tsai Ing-wen had asked for Premier William Lai to continue in his post following the electoral defeat, but she finally accepted his resignation in the New Year. Tsai appointed former ruling party chairperson Su Tseng-chang as a replacement. Announcements for the new cabinet are expected soon. Tsai is about a year away from facing an election herself, and there’s mounting criticism over her reform agenda. Her time as president has also seen a decline in relations with Beijing, which views the island as part of its territory under the so called “One China” principle.
Chinese VP calls for cooperation; China’s vice president has called for Beijing and Washington to use dialogue to resolve differences and deepen cooperation. Wang Qishan’s comments came during a reception to commemorate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the 2 countries. He said, “The two sides must respect each other’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and persist in appropriately handling and dealing with disputes through dialogue and consultation.” The Xinhua news agency says hundreds of people from both countries attended the event at the Great Hall of the People. Wang has previous experience negotiating trade issues with the US. His speech comes amid an ongoing trade war between the 2 countries. Officials met this week in an attempt to iron out their differences.
US, China to hold ministerial-level talks: US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says his country and China will hold ministerial-level trade talks this month.
Mnuchin said on Thursday that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will most likely visit Washington later in January. He said America’s ongoing partial government shutdown would have no impact on the visit. The United States agreed at a summit meeting last month to postpone tariff hikes on Chinese imports during negotiations until March 1st. Trade officials from both sides met for three days of talks in Beijing this week. The talks appear to have achieved some progress on measures to reduce the US trade deficit. But an NHK reporter in Washington says tough negotiations lie ahead in the upcoming ministerial-level talks, with divisions remaining over China’s alleged violations of intellectual property rights and other issues.
Tens of thousands march in Argentina against Macri’s austerity; LIMA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Argentines marched through Buenos Aires on Thursday carrying torches, in the first of a series of planned protests against President Mauricio Macri’s austerity program and the soaring cost of public services. Macri slashed subsidies for public utilities and other services to reduce the country’s chronic fiscal deficit, pushing electricity and gas rates up more 2,000 percent since the start of his term, according to estimates by local media. Rates are expected to increase even more this year. “People can’t make ends meet. All the measures taken by the government go against workers,” Pablo Moyano, a leader of a union of truck drivers, said during the protest.
Weekly demonstrations are planned through early February, increasing pressure on Macri to solve the country’s economic crisis ahead of a presidential election late this year. Last year, when the economy contracted, inflation neared 50 percent and the peso lost close to 50 percent of its value, Macri reached an unpopular deal with the IMF for a $57 billion lifeline in exchange for a commitment to cut the deficit. The protesters on Thursday, who witnesses estimated numbered at least 20,000, carried effigies of Macri and signs that read “Enough of the Macri/IMF austerity program” as they marched past the city’s obelisk monument toward Congress.
Social media giants plan push-back on India’s new regulations: sources; NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Global social media and technology giants are gearing up to fight sweeping new rules proposed by the Indian government that would require them to actively regulate content in one of the world’s biggest Internet markets, sources close to the matter told Reuters. The rules, proposed by the Information Technology ministry on Christmas Eve, would compel platforms such as Facebook, its messaging service WhatsApp and Twitter to remove unlawful content, such as anything that affected the “sovereignty and integrity of India”. This had to be done within 24 hours, the rules propose. The proposal, which caught many holidaying industry executives off guard, is open for public comment until Jan. 31. It will then be adopted as law, with or without changes. The move comes ahead of India’s national election due by May and amid rising worries that activists could misuse social media, especially the WhatsApp messaging service, to spread fake news and sway voters. Industry executives and civil rights activists say the rules smack of censorship and could be used by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase surveillance and crack down on dissent. Social media firms have long battled efforts by governments around the world to hold them responsible for what users post on their platforms.