President Barack Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had an interesting phone call today.
The German government obtained information that the United States may have monitored the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel, so she called President Obama on Wednesday to demand an immediate clarification, a German government spokesman said.
"We swiftly sent a request to our American partners asking for an immediate and comprehensive clarification," the spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement. He added that Merkel had made clear to Obama that if the information proved trued it would be "completely unacceptable" and represent a "grave breach of trust".
Obama sought to assure Merkel that “the United States is not monitoring the communications of the chancellor.”
Photos by REUTERS/Yves Herman (Merkel, taken in 2011) and Pete Souza/White House (Obama, taken in 2013).
Pope Francis banished a Roman Catholic bishop known as the “luxury bishop” from the diocese for spending $43 million dollars on housing.
Tebartz-van Elst has apologized for any “carelessness or misjudgment on my part” but denies wrongdoing. Tebartz-van Elst has also been accused by German magistrates of lying under oath about a first-class flight to visit poverty programs in India.
German media, citing official documents, said the residence had been fitted with a free-standing bath that cost 15,000 euros, a conference table that cost 25,000 euros and a private chapel for 2.9 million euros.
Photo of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst’s residence in Limburg, Germany on October 14, 2013. Credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files
World Wrap: September 23, 2013
Kenyan officials claim progress in al Shabaab siege, Merkel wins big in weekend elections, and crises take center stage at this week’s U.N. General Assembly. Today is Monday, September 23, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Gunmen hold hostages in third day of Nairobi mall siege
Kenyan police officers take position during the ongoing military operation at the Westgate Shopping Center in the capital Nairobi, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Nairobi nightmare continues. Some hostages remain trapped in a Nairobi mall on Monday, after al Shabaab operatives took hold of the shopping center on Saturday in a violent siege that has left nearly 70 dead so far. The Somalia-based militant group demanded Kenya withdraw troops from Somalia, where it has worked to push out al Shabaab as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission, but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Sunday he won’t end the mission:
It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, two hours after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by a plume of black smoke, that grew in volume from one part of the complex. Kenya’s interior minister told a news conference that the militants – all men, though some wore women’s clothing during the assault – had set a fire with mattresses in a supermarket on the mall’s lower floors. Two “terrorists” had been killed on Monday, he added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.
Officials said the attackers come from various nations. One woman described her escape from the mall, explaining that she fled to safety through a staff exit. While Kenyan officials say they are “closing in” on the attackers, citizens expressed frustration that the situation has not yet been resolved. Judges at the International Criminal Court on Monday adjourned Deputy President William Ruto’s crimes against humanity trial for one week so that he could deal with the crisis.
German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel smiles as she receives flowers after first exit polls in the German general election (Bundestagswahl) at party headquarters in Berlin, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Merkel madness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel nabbed an easy victory in Sunday’s elections, winning 42 percent of the vote for her conservative party – the strongest show of support for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in decades. Still, Merkel will have to find a way to compromise with the losing parties on how to lead the country:
Despite leading her conservatives to their best result since 1990, with 41.5 percent of votes putting them five seats short of the first absolute majority in parliament in over half a century, 59-year-old Merkel had little time to celebrate. “We are, of course, open for talks and I have already had initial contact with the SPD (Social Democratic Party) chairman, who said the SPD must first hold a meeting of its leaders on Friday,” Merkel told a news conference, adding that she did not rule out talks with other potential coalition partners.
Though German voters would welcome coalition rule, the partnership would not be easy and may force Merkel to reconsider austerity measures that have kept Germany strong during the euro zone crisis.
A U.N. worker rests after checking the temporary General Assembly Hall at the U.N. headquarters ahead to the start of the U.N. general assembly in New York, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Syria summit. The crisis in Syria will dominate the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, where global leaders, including wanted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and recently-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, will meet in New York for the annual conference which begins tomorrow:
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the top agenda item will be Syria’s 2-1/2-year civil war, which the United Nations says has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions… No one expects a breakthrough in the crisis this week, though there may be approval of a U.N. resolution backing a U.S.-Russian plan to … remove Syria’s chemical weapons by June 2014 to avoid U.S. air strikes. That plan was agreed to as U.N. inspectors confirmed sarin nerve gas was used in an August 21 attack near Damascus that killed over 1,400 people, many of them children, according to U.S. estimates.
Onlookers also are on the lookout for a possible impromptu meeting – or even just a handshake – between President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart. Iran’s foreign minister said his country will join six-power talks on its nuclear program later this week, and Iranian media reported Iran pardoned 80 prisoners ahead of Rouhani’s visit. The most controversial attendee is Sudan’s Bashir, wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Snake on a plane - Qantas grounds a flight in Sydney after finding a Mandarin rat snake on board. (BBC)
Reef barrier - A massive port project could damage Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. (Time)
Entrepreneur spring - Despite unrest, Egypt’s startup culture grows. (The Atlantic)
Movie Metropolis - A Chinese businessman wants to build the world’s most expensive film studio. (The Guardian)
Mubarak on Mubarak - A secret recording reveals Mubarak’s stance on the U.S., Jews and himself. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: August 29, 2013
Britain backpedals on Syria strike, 4-year-old’s death outrages China, and Merkel’s opponent inspired by Romney. Today is Thursday, August 29, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Lessons of Iraq stall Syria strike
Demonstrators hold placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
When, how, and at what cost? After President Barack Obama on Wednesday made his case for striking Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who would oversee the intervention, voiced his own stance:
“I think the world has had enough war,” Hagel told a forum in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. He was responding to a question about the threat of conflict with China but broadened his answer to talk about war, generally… But Hagel hinted in Indonesia… that a limited intervention in Syria might be necessary, saying nations sometimes must go to war – including for humanitarian reasons. He had told reporters toward the start of his trip that the United States couldn’t wait indefinitely to respond to any confirmed use of chemical weapons. “If, in fact, this was a deliberate use and attack by the Syrian government on its own people using chemical weapons, there may be another attack coming,” he said.
Washington’s preferred course of action appears to be a cruise missile attack – a move intended to punish Assad for conducting a deadly chemical attack but not to change the course of the war. Still, even a quick military operation could provoke retaliation from Assad’s government:
Many analysts predict that Syria and its allies will avoid a direct conflict with the United States and opt instead for an “asymmetric response” aimed at Western vulnerabilities – terror or cyber attacks, for example. Assad also could opt not to respond to a strike, hoping to wait out the U.S. and allied military threat. A U.S. official with experience in the Middle East said that Washington also is concerned that Iran could turn up the heat in Iraq. So far, resurgent violence by Sunni militants there has not been answered with retaliation from Shi’ite militias with ties to Tehran… Iran’s military chief of staff, Hassan Firouzabadi, was quoted by a state-run Iranian news agency on Wednesday as promising that “any attack on Syria would burn down Israel.”
Despite an earlier sense of immediacy, any strike likely will be delayed as U.S. and British lawmakers seek to avoid repeating mistakes from the Iraq war. UK Prime Minister David Cameron walked back a demand for action on Wednesday, opting instead to wait for the U.N. chemical weapons team’s return on Saturday before making a decision. Senior members of the Obama administration will brief congressional leaders on the situation in Syria on Thursday.
Land over life. Chinese social media users are up in arms over reports that a bulldozer killed a four-year-old girl after a government land-grab dispute. AFP reports the child was crushed as her family tried to stop construction crews:
Images posted on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, showed a toddler lying on a table in what appeared to be an office, badly bruised with blood pouring from her head as a woman cried at her side. The family has been negotiating compensation over the acquisition of their land, Hong [Bingsheng] said. Such talks between residents and developers are common across China as the country undergoes rapid urbanization.
Local officials told AFP that he child was killed accidentally. China’s land seizures, which leave farmers with few legal options, have been an ongoing cause of unrest in the country.
A combination picture shows Social Democratic top candidate Peer Steinbrueck (SPD) in Hanover and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in Winsen during their election campaigns in August 2013. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
Role model Romney. Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) hope their candidate will trump Chancellor Angela Merkel in an upcoming televised debate, citing U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s performance during the first debate as a model success:
Peer Steinbrueck, the SPD candidate for chancellor, is trailing badly in opinion polls, but his rhetorical gifts could give him an edge over Merkel in their only televised showdown before the September 22 election, and he could be helped by the inclusion of an irreverent entertainer on the question panel. He has promised to confront her over Greek bailouts, but Steinbrueck will also want to avoid appearing too aggressive in the 1-1/2 hour prime-time clash with Merkel, whose popularity rests in part on her modest, reserved style. The former finance minister has a quick wit but he can seem arrogant and overbearing. Like U.S. Republican challenger Romney, polls show he suffers from a “likeability” problem.
Merkel is expected to win easily despite concern over another possible Greek bailout. However, it remains unclear whether she will gain the votes necessary to continue a coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP).
Nota Bene: With the Muslim Brotherhood out, Egypt’s fate rests in the hands of the old order.
Credibility cost - Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer questions whether a strike on Syria could really be limited. (Reuters)
News-ish - French newspapers report on historical fiction. (The New York Times)
Wages at stake - Paraguayan bus drivers stage a crucifixion protest. (BBC)
On the ground - Ninja reporters record street protests in Brazil. (The Guardian)
Fatal fling - South Korean media report Kim Jong-un’s ex-girlfriend was executed by firing squad. (The Telegraph)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
Some 60 teams from around the globe competed over the weekend for places in the Discdogging World Cup finals which will be held in Tennessee, U.S., in September.
Photo: Lucky, Diego and Taylor (L-R) try to catch frisbees during the Discdogging World Cup 2013 qualifications, in Bad Woerishofen, southern Germany, on July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle
Secretary of State John Kerry offered a defense of freedom of speech, religion and thought in the United States on Tuesday telling German students that in America “you have a right to be stupid if you want to be.”
"As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view," Kerry told the students in Berlin, the second stop on his inaugural trip as secretary of state.
"People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another," he added.
"The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In American you have a right to be stupid - if you want to be," he said, prompting laughter. "And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be."