BREAKING NEWS: Syria: Israeli missiles hit Damascus airport warehouse: Canada: Deadly double-decker bus crash in capital Ottawa
Germany books €11.2 billion budget surplus; Higher than expected tax revenue and lower spending have led to the surplus, the fifth in as many years. Still, no one is rushing to invest the extra cash, something critics say is desperately needed. Even though Germany had taken in more in taxes and spent less than expected, resulting in a budget surplus of €11.2 billion ($12.8 billion), German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz warned, “The good times in which the state keeps taking in more taxes than expected are coming to an end.” Extreme-right defectors deal a blow to Germany’s far-right AfD; The far-right Alternative for Germany may be unravelling at the edges after a disgruntled member struck off on his own. That’s bad news for the populists ahead of key elections, says DW political analyst Jefferson Chase. There is now even more right-wing alternative to the Alternative for Germany (AfD). On Thursday, the former party leader in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, Andre Poggenburg, resigned his party membership. Only hours later, the far-right hard-liner announced that he is forming a party of his own, the “Aufbruch deutscher Patrioten” (Uprising of German Patriots), to compete with the AfD. Poggenburg was one of the more extreme nationalist and xenophobic leaders within the AfD, which twice censured him for using language reminiscent of right-wing extremism. He has close ties to the radical Identitarian and Pegida movements. And for much of his career he was also an ally of Thuringian AfD leader Björn Höcke, who is regarded as one of the main motors behind the AfD’s ethnic-nationalist hard-line wing and who has often been accused of anti-Semitism. In 2016, Poggenburg became the leader of the opposition in the Saxony-Anhalt regional parliament, but he stepped down last year from that position and as regional party leader following controversial anti-Turkish remarks. The emblem of Poggenburg’s new party, a blue cornflower, has been criticized for having right-wing extremist and Nazi connotations.
French police brace for ninth ‘yellow vest’ weekend protests; Across France, 80,000 police officers are being mobilized for the ninth weekend of nationwide street protests. President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a three-month public debate have done little to assuage anger. More than 5,000 police officers are expected to be on the streets of the French capital on Saturday to monitor the ninth weekend of street protests by the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) movement. Nationwide, national police chief Eric Morvan told France Inter radio that he expected turnout to be similar to protests in mid-December, when more than 60,000 took to the streets across the country. The protests, named after the high-visibility jackets French drivers carry in their cars, have repeatedly witnessed clashes between demonstrators and police since they began in November in response to a fuel tax hike.
Syria: Israeli missiles hit Damascus airport warehouse; Syrian air defenses shot down most of the incoming missiles, but one reportedly hit a warehouse at Damascus airport. Israel has vowed to prevent Iran from setting up permanent military bases in Syria. Syrian air defenses shot down missiles fired by “Israeli military planes” at around 11.00 p.m. local time (2100 UTC), Syria’s official SANA news agency reported, citing a military source. “Only a ministry of transport warehouse at Damascus international airport was hit,” SANA said. Israel has previously carried out missile strikes against what it says are Iranian military targets and arms stores within Syria that are linked to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group. Israel says it would not allow Iran, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, to set up military bases in Syria. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor confirmed the missile attack, saying at least two Israeli rockets hit the outskirts of the airport.
Venezuela’s opposition leader says he’s ready to replace Nicolas Maduro; Juan Guaido said the constitution granted him the power to head a transitional government. The opposition is reportedly planning to extend an olive branch to the regime’s army defectors. The leader of Venezuela’s opposition-run National Assembly, Juan Guaido, has said that he could temporarily replace Nicolas Maduro as president. Guaido said Maduro, who has overseen a severe economic and political crisis since assuming office in 2013, lacked legitimacy and that the country’s constitution permitted the head of the legislature to fill in a presidential vacancy. Maduro effectively replaced the National Assembly in 2017 by creating a rival Constituent Assembly that he filled with loyal supporters. The opposition leader’s remarks came a day after Maduro was sworn in for a second presidential term following his controversial electoral win last year. The opposition boycotted the vote, which the United States, European Union and Organization of American States dismissed as fraudulent.
Canada: Deadly double-decker bus crash in capital Ottawa; The bus hit a shelter in wintry conditions at the start of the afternoon rush hour in the Canadian capital. There were multiple injuries on the crowded bus, some of them fatal. The westbound 269 bus to Kanata hit the shelter at the busy transit station in the west end of Ottawa just before 4 p.m. local time (2100 UTC) on Friday. In cold, wintry conditions, part of the upper right side of the double-decker was removed. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said 23 people were injured in the crash, some of them critically. Three people died; two were believed to have been on the bus, and one person was waiting on the platform. The bus could have been holding as many as 90 passengers. The city’s police chief Charles Bordeleau said the bus driver was arrested at the scene and taken in for questioning. “An investigation is now underway on the cause of the collision,” Bordeleau said.
Colombia: Protesters call for chief prosecutor to resign; Nestor Humberto Martinez’s links to Brazilian giant Odebrecht have damaged his reputation. Critics say he is riddled with conflicts of interest and should step down. Thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez. He has been accused of withholding information on Colombia’s links to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Odebrecht has been at the center of one of the biggest transnational corruption scandals in Latin America’s recent history. The firm is reported to have paid some $800 million (€698 million) in bribes to politicians in 10 different countries in exchange for government contracts. Protesters gathered outside Martinez’s office in Bogota, carrying flashlights to “shine a light” on what they called the country’s corrupt institutions. Demonstrations against Martinez also took place in Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga and other cities, Colombian broadcaster Caracol reported.
Sudan police fire tear gas at protestors amid call for week of action; Crowds chanting “freedom, peace, justice” demonstrated in two areas of Khartoum and in Omdurman just across the Nile, witnesses said. They were quickly confronted by volleys of tear gas from riot police. Video footage from Sudan purportedly showing worshippers chanting anti-government slogans inside a Khartoum mosque spread online on social media later Friday. The footage could not be independently verified. Friday’s protests came after organisers called for nationwide demonstrations over the next week demanding Bashir’s resignation. Protests that first erupted on December 19 over a government decision to triple the price of bread have swiftly escalated into broader demonstrations widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule in his three decades in power. “We will launch a week of uprising with demonstrations in every Sudanese town and village,” the Sudanese Professionals’ Association said.
Myanmar court rejects Reuters reporters’ appeal against 7-year sentence; Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted by a lower court in September in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates. “It was a suitable punishment,” said High Court Judge Aung Naing, referring to the seven-year prison term meted out by the lower court. The defence has the option of making a further appeal to the country’s supreme court, based in the capital Naypyitaw. “Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth,” said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler in a statement. “Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.”
Mood of revolt in Serbia as anti-Vucic protests grow; Major opposition protests in Serbia have been relatively rare over the past decade, but the icy January air has ushered in a swelling mood of revolt. Since last month, thousands of demonstrators have rallied each Saturday through Belgrade’s frozen streets against President Aleksandar Vucic, accusing him of stifling media freedoms and cracking down on the opposition. This Saturday, for the sixth time in a row, the marchers will against hoist up their flags and banners in a united display of discontent against Vucic’s increasingly controversial rule. “Dictator!” cried the crowd at a recent demonstration in the capital. More than a dozen people carried a giant banner reading: “Stop bloody shirts” — a reference to opposition politician Borko Stefanovic’s bloodstained shirt after he was beaten up last November. It was that incident that triggered the first protests. The assault was reminiscent of the violent attacks on political opponents in the 1990s under the rule of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Japan, France ministers ‘concerned’ about China; The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and France have expressed strong concern about China’s maritime assertiveness. They have agreed to establish a dialogue framework to boost maritime cooperation. The ministers met at a naval facility in the northwestern French city of Brest on Friday. This is the fifth so-called “two-plus-two” meeting between Japan and France. It brought together Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, as well as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly. The ministers expressed strong concern about China’s increasing maritime activities in the East and South China Seas. They agreed to strongly oppose unilateral actions that raise tensions. The ministers also agreed to launch a working-level maritime dialogue framework to improve collaboration between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and French military units stationed on islands in the South Pacific. Delegates to the dialogue will comprehensively discuss matters in such fields as national security, science, technology, environment, and energy. The Japanese and French governments say they will hold the first session of the dialogue by the end of the year. The ministers agreed that Japanese destroyers will hold a joint exercise with France’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle when the latter operates in the Indian Ocean. Japan announced last month that it would withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling. The ministers confirmed that France will keep Japan’s stance in mind and that both countries will continue to exchange opinions on sustainable maintenance and preservation of whale stocks.
Ghosn suspected of receiving additional funds; Nissan Motor’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn reportedly received compensation of more than nine million dollars from an affiliated company without the knowledge of other board members. Sources say an in-house probe by Nissan revealed that Ghosn allegedly received the money in 2018 as compensation from Nissan-Mitsubishi B.V. in Holland. Nissan President Hiroto Saikawa and Mitsubishi Motors CEO Osamu Masuko are board members of the holding company, but they were reportedly not notified of the payment. The sources say neither Saikawa nor Masuko received similar payments from the Dutch firm. They say the in-house probe revealed that one of Renault’s nine executives also received unreported compensation from another holding company, Renault-Nissan B.V. Nissan and Mitsubishi are considering disclosing the findings of the investigation when it is complete.
12 civilians killed in jihadist attack in Burkina Faso; Twelve civilians were killed on Thursday during a jihadist attack in the north of Burkina Faso, which has been battling a wave of Islamist violence, officials said Friday. The west African country declared a state of emergency in several provinces at the end of last year and on Thursday replaced its army chief as it struggled to put a stop to a spate of such attacks. In the latest violence, gunmen attacked a village market in broad daylight, the security ministry said in a statement issued late Friday. “Around 30 armed individuals perpetrated… a terrorist attack in the village of Gasseliki,” it said, giving a toll of 12 dead and two wounded. “A barn, a cart and six shops were also set alight,” it added. A local source told AFP that the attackers “ransacked stores and opened fire on people who had gathered for the weekly market”.