Thirty years after it fell, the Berlin Wall still divides Germans

Thirty years after it fell, the Berlin Wall still divides Germans
By Paul Carrel

LEIPZIG, Germany (Reuters) – When Matthias Rudolph joined political protests in Leipzig in 1989, he wanted to change the Communist German Democratic Republic. Thirty years on, he enjoys the freedoms the fall of the Berlin Wall brought, but is not entirely happy either.

Like many Germans in the former East, Rudolph, 55, laments the way reunification unfolded – “there wasn’t a new start” – and describes a divided society today that he believes drives some disaffected easterners toward political extremism.

“I didn’t want to do away with the GDR but rather to reform it,” said Rudolph, who was spied on by a colleague and detained for protesting as East Germany limped into its final months. “Personally, I wanted a different GDR, a more democratic GDR.”

The Leipzig protests are widely seen as the beginning of the end of the GDR. Yet, almost 30 years after the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, a psychological divide remains between east and west: easterners still feel they came off second best.

“There was no reset,” said Rudolph, who complained that reunification was a missed opportunity to remake Germany with a new constitution.

“For west Germans, nothing changed other than post codes. For east Germans, everything changed,” the energy company employee added.

For west Berlin resident Angelika Bondick, 63, whose flat looks over the former Bernauer Strasse checkpoint, the fall of the Wall brought more tourists but no major upheaval. In GDR times, she regularly visited family in the East anyway.

If the dismantling of the Wall signaled the end of the Cold War, it also opened up new routes to walk her dog.

“It’s nice that we can walk in whichever direction we want now,” she told Reuters from her balcony.

The East has endured far more upheaval.

Late chancellor Helmut Kohl, the architect of reunification, promised east Germans “flourishing landscapes” in 1990 but the “Aufschwung Ost” – or eastern economic recovery – proved far slower and more painful than he had imagined.

Two million people, especially young people and women, have left the region since reunification in 1990 and few big global firms have moved in.

After cash injections of 2 trillion euros ($2 trillion) over three decades, the East’s economic output per capita is still three quarters of western German levels. Productivity is lower, and unemployment 2 percentage points higher than in the west.

A government report on the state of German unity last month cited a survey showing 57% of east Germans felt like second-class citizens. Only 38% in the East saw reunification as a success, including only 20% of people younger than 40.

Rudolph said he does not feel like a second class citizen.

“But it is also true that you always have to explain yourself. That’s not nice either,” he said. “I thought that would be over in a few years, but it wasn’t.”

Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk, a historian and author of ‘The Takeover – how East Germany became part of the Federal Republic’, said the economic shock of reunification disrupted the whole social fabric of eastern Germany.

“There was not a unification process on a level playing field but rather an alignment process … what existed in the west was practiced in the east one-to-one,” he said, adding that some easterners now felt they were not “full value citizens”.

“Since 1990, many east Germans have been trying to be more German than the federal Germans ever were – and that results in an open nationalism and racism,” Kowalczuk added.

“WE ARE THE PEOPLE!”

Easterners’ sense of inferiority provides fertile ground for extreme parties. In the eastern state of Thuringia, which holds a regional election on Sunday, polls show a majority of voters support the far-right AfD and the far-left Linke.

In Thuringia and two other eastern states that held elections last month, the AfD has co-opted slogans that were used during the 1989 protests that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, including “Wir sind das Volk!” (We are the people!).

The AfD, which is far stronger in the east than the west, is urging voters: “The East rises – complete the change!”

Adopting the word “Wende”, used to describe the fall of East German Communism, the AfD calls for “Wende 2.0” – effectively urging voters to do away with the established parties in a “drain the swamp”-style pitch.

Christian Hirte, the government’s commissioner for the eastern states, says: “It is my firm conviction that the overwhelming majority of eastern Germans do not want anything to do with far-right crackpots who are violent.”

But he acknowledges that xenophobia is an issue damaging to eastern Germany’s attractiveness as a business location.

“We have to tell citizens clearly: it is in our own national and regional interests to be open,” he said.

The message has not got through to everyone.

A report by the ZEW institute earlier this year showed the probability of an asylum seeker becoming a victim of hate crime in eastern Germany is 10 times greater than in the west.

Images like last year’s far-right riots in Chemnitz – the worst such clashes in Germany in decades – and this month’s attack on a synagogue in Halle by a far-right extremist have reinforced the picture of a disenchanted and radicalized east.

In the latest episode of far-right intimidation, police said this week they were protecting the leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in Thuringia after he received a death threat that ended “Heil Hitler!”.

That kind of language is anathema to Dagmar Simdorn, 81, who grew up during World War Two and then lived in the GDR, just a few hundred yards from the Berlin Wall. She still notices differences between easterners and westerners.

“But I think young people are doing better,” she said. “It’s easier for them. They are growing up in this time of freedom. They don’t know about East and West. That’s why I believe it’s so important to remind young people how things were then.”

(Additional reporting by Oliver Denzer; Editing by Giles Elgood)

France worried by new phase in Iran’s breaching of nuclear pact

France worried by new phase in Iran’s breaching of nuclear pact
By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) – France urged Iran on Wednesday not to scale back further on its commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal, saying Tehran’s new threat to speed up uranium enrichment next month was “especially worrying”.

Iran is breaching restrictions of the pact with major powers step-by-step in response to tough sanctions imposed by the United States, which pulled out of the deal last year.

Tehran has said its next move would be taken on Nov. 6 and diplomats fear this could force a response from European powers, who have been trying to salvage the accord. Britain, France and Germany, all signatories, have refrained from acting so far.

“Iran must abstain from crossing an especially worrying new phase of new measures that could contribute to an escalation in tensions,” French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnès von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that Tehran was working on advanced IR-9 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

The nuclear deal only lets Iran accumulate enriched uranium with just over 5,000 of its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz. It lets Iran use small numbers of more advanced models for research, without producing enriched uranium.

Iran is now enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges and installing more that should come online in coming weeks.

Rouhani’s remarks suggested Iran was developing a new centrifuge, the IR-9, violating the deal which specifies the centrifuges Iran can use and making no mention of an IR-9.

French President Emmanuel Macron attempted and failed last month to broker talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Rouhani in New York. Prospects of any talks in coming weeks seem slim with Tehran demanding U.S. sanctions are lifted first.

The nuclear deal aimed to extend the so-called “breakout time” Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a bomb, if it sought one, to a year instead of two or three months.

“Nov. 6 will be Iran’s fourth violation. Until now they have been political and symbolic with a limited impact on the breakout time, but the more they violate, the less choice and latitude they have that doesn’t impact the breakout time,” said a French diplomatic source.

“After November, the world doesn’t end, but it becomes much harder to save the deal,” the source added.

Iran says it has enriched uranium for civilian purposes and has never sought nuclear weapons, but the United States and IAEA believe it once had a nuclear weapons program that it ended.

“Iran is underscoring that it will no longer be hemmed in by the nuclear agreement, nor is it particularly alarmed by the increasingly concerned statements coming out of Europe,” Eurasia’s Iran analyst Henry Rome said.

“This is a recipe for a significant nuclear escalation in early November, not just another incremental step.”

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Catherine Evans and Edmund Blair)

German synagogue gunman confesses to crime and to an anti-Semitic motive: prosecutors

German synagogue gunman confesses to crime and to an anti-Semitic motive: prosecutors
By Ursula Knapp

KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) – The man accused of killing two in a gun attack near a synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany, has confessed to the crime and to a far-right, anti-Semitic motivation, prosecutors said on Friday.

Prosecutors described how Stephan B., who published a racist and anti-Semitic manifesto and live-streamed the shooting on Wednesday, had shot two bystanders after failing to enter the synagogue.

Only his poor aim and the unreliability of his home-made firearms had saved from injury nine other people he fired upon during his half-hour rampage, federal prosecutors said at their headquarters in the city of Karlsruhe.

The first victim, a passer-by who shouted at him as he tried to shoot his way into the synagogue as the congregation inside celebrated the Jewish religious festival of Yom Kippur, was a woman of 40, they said.

Minutes later, he attacked a nearby kebab restaurant, injuring one who fell to the floor as other staff and customers ran away. Stephan B. returned to his car to fetch another weapon with which he killed the injured man with several more rounds, the prosecutors said.

He missed nine other targets, who included policemen on his trail, because his weapons jammed or through poor aim, they added.

There has been no public comment yet from the suspect’s lawyers.

Investigators earlier seized evidence from the Halle flat he shared with his mother, including the 3D printer with which he is believed to have made the home-made guns he used in his failed attempt to storm the synagogue, magazine Der Spiegel reported.

In his manifesto, packed with references to the gaming and online messageboard communities he seemingly frequented, the 27-year-old outlined plans to attack the synagogue, expressing the hope that he might also kill Muslims and attack mosques.

Stephan B.’s mother told Der Spiegel that her son had experimented with drugs in his early 20s and barely survived the experience, from which he had emerged a different person.

His full name cannot be published under German privacy laws.

(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones)

Synagogue attack sparks fear among Jews in Germany

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – As Jews left Yom Kippur prayers across Germany on Wednesday, they were jolted by word that an anti-Semitic gunman had attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle hours before, killing two people.

The news heightened fears of more anti-Semitic violence in a nation still scarred by the Holocaust and witnessing the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

“It’s very scary,” said Samuel Tsarfati, a 27-year-old stage director, as he left a Berlin synagogue with fellow French national Samuel Laufer.

The pair, who live and work in the German capital, had spent the holiest day in the Jewish calendar secluded in prayer and switched off their mobile phones for 25 hours of fasting.

Other members of Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community expressed similar alarm over the attack. After trying to blast into the Halle synogogue, a lone suspect killed a woman outside and a man in a nearby kebab shop.

“It’s not a coincidence it happened in east Germany. The far-right AfD is very strong there,” Tsarfati said. Leaders of the AfD, which made big gains in elections in two eastern states last month, condemned Wednesday’s attack in Halle.

Attacks on Jews rose by 20% last year and were mainly carried out by right-wing extremists. Even before the Halle shooting, a heavy police presence guarded the synagogue in the trendy suburb of Prenzlauer Berg where Tsarfati and Lauferis attended prayers.

Jews and German politicians have been particularly worried by comments by Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD leader of eastern Thuringia state, that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a “monument of shame” and that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two.

“What happened today shows that the AfD should not be underestimated,” said Laufer. “AfD leaders like Hoecke don’t want to see that their words encourage some people to kill.”

Hoecke was among the AfD leaders to condemn the Halle attack.

The Halle gunman broadcast anti-Semitic comments before he opened fire. Several German media outlets said he acted alone although police have not confirmed this.

The far-right AfD entered the national parliament for the first time two years ago, riding a wave of anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome almost 1 million migrants. The party’s rise has alarmed Jewish leaders who condemn the party’s verbal attacks against Muslim migrants.

‘BLINDED BY HATRED’

Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Jewish Community in Munich, suggested that the AfD’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was contributing to an atmosphere of hate that encouraged political violence.

“This scary attack makes it clear how fast words can become acts of political extremism,” she said in a statement. “I’d be interested to know what that AfD has to say about such excesses, for which it had prepared the ground with its uncultured hate and incitement.”

At the gold-domed New Synagogue in Berlin’s city center about 200 people, including Muslim leaders, held a vigil, some carrying Israeli flags and others holding candles. Merkel visited the synagogue in the evening and took part in prayers.

Renate Keller, a 76-year-old attending the vigil with her husband, said the attack in Halle showed that Germany was not doing enough to fight anti-Semitism.

“It scares me that after the Holocaust some people have learned nothing from our history, which still weighs on us today,” she said. “People like the attacker have probably never met a Jew in their lives. They are just blinded by hatred.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, warned of the incendiary potential far-right politics.

“It shows that right-wing extremism is not only some kind of political development, but that it is highly dangerous and exactly the kind of danger that we have always warned against.”

mtpi

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Two killed in shooting at synagogue in Germany, suspects flee in hijacked car

By Stephan Schepers

HALLE, Germany (Reuters) – Two people were killed in shooting attacks on a synagogue and a kebab bistro in the eastern German city of Halle on Wednesday and one suspect was arrested, but two others fled in a hijacked a car, officials said.

The violence occurred on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the calendar in Judaism when Jews fast, seeking atonement.

The two suspects on the loose headed out on a motorway that leads to Munich in the country’s south, according to the mayor of the town of Landsberg, adjacent to Halle. Gunfire was also heard in Landsberg, Focus Online reported.

A spokeswoman for the Halle municipal government said one shooting took place in front of the synagogue on Humboldt street and its accompanying cemetery, while a second burst of gunfire targeted the kebab shop in the city in the province of Saxony.

Max Privorozki, Halle’s Jewish community chairman, described how a gunman tried to shoot his way into the city’s synagogue.

“We saw via the camera system at our synagogue that a heavily-armed perpetrator with a steel helmet and a gun tried to shoot open our doors,” he told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. “The man looked like he was from the special forces…But our doors held.

“We barricaded the doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that about 70-80 people were inside the Humboldt street synagogue celebrating Yom Kippur.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government voiced outrage over the attack on Yom Kippur and urged tougher action against anti-Semitic violence.

“That on the Day of Atonement a synagogue was shot at hits us in the heart,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter. “We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country.”

Anti-Semitism is a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, which during World War Two was responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. Around 200,000 Jews live today in Germany, a country of around 83 million.

EMERGENCY

Another Halle city spokesman said an emergency situation had been declared and all residents advised to stay at home. He said that emergency services and police were evacuating people from the synagogue.

Broadcasters showed images of an alleged perpetrator dressed in combat garb including a helmet.

“Our forces have detained one person,” local police said on Twitter. “Please nonetheless remain vigilant.” Earlier, police tweeted: “According to initial findings, two people were killed in Halle. There were several shots.”

The identities of the victims were not immediately known.

An unnamed eyewitness told local media the assailant at the synagogue was dressed in combat gear including a helmet, and had thrown several explosive devices into the cemetery.

Another eyewitness, Conrad Roesler, described the attack on the kebab bistro. “He had an assault rifle and a helmet and suddenly he threw what looked like a grenade. It bounced off a door frame…Suddenly he picked up the rifle and fired at the shop…I hid in the toilet,” Roesler told n-tv television.

Regional public broadcaster MDR broadcast images of a man in combat clothing firing shots along a street from behind a car.

National rail operator Deutsche Bahn said the main train station in Halle had been closed.

“This is terrible news from Halle and I hope very much that the police catch the perpetrator, or perpetrators, as quickly as possible,” federal government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, interrupting a regular government news conference.

The federal prosecutors office said it was taking over the investigation, a procedural step which indicates a possible link to terrorism under German law.

In Berlin, the state interior senator advised police to step up security at Jewish institutions in the German capital.

Despite comprehensive de-Nazification in the post-war era, fears of resurgent anti-Semitic hatred have never completely gone away, whether from fringe, far-right neo-Nazis or more recently from Muslim immigrants.

Occasional past attacks have ranged from the scrawling of Nazi swastikas on gravestones to firebombings at synagogues and even several murders. In recent years, cases of assault or verbal abuse, in some cases directed against people wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps, have raised an outcry.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Joseph Nasr, Thomas Escritt and Riham Alkousaa, Gabi Sajonz-Grimm and Michelle Martin; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Mark Heinrich)

G7 or G5? Trump and Johnson add unpredictability to French summit

A view shows the beach and Le Bellevue summit venue ahead of the G7 Summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz, France, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By John Irish and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Brexit Britain’s overtures to U.S. President Donald Trump risk further complicating the search for common ground this weekend at a Group of Seven summit already clouded by transatlantic rifts over trade, Iran and climate change.

The summit host, President Emmanuel Macron of France, has set the bar low for Biarritz to avoid a repeat of the fiasco last year when Trump threw Canada’s G7 summit into disarray by leaving early, scotching the final communique.

Macron, an ardent europhile and staunch defender of multilateralism, will count on incremental advances in areas where a united front can be presented, with the meeting, which runs from Saturday to Monday, officially focusing on the broad theme of reducing inequality.

On hot-button issues, they will, when necessary, have to agree to disagree.

“We have to adapt formats. There will be no final communique, but coalitions, commitments and follow-ups,” Macron said. “We must assume that, on one subject or another, a member of the club might not sign up.”

The G7 groups the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, and the European Union also attends. Macron has also invited the leaders of Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, in order to widen the debate on inequality.

TOUGH TOPICS

But the tougher discussions lie elsewhere. The Sino-U.S. trade war has spurred fears of a global economic slump; European powers are struggling to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran; and Trump has shown little enthusiasm for France’s push for a universal tax on digital multinationals such as Google and Amazon, and turned his back on efforts in Europe and around the globe to limit carbon emissions to slow climate change.

The crisis in Kashmir and street protests in Hong Kong may also be touched on during the talks in France’s Atlantic coast surfing capital, where some 13,000 police will be drafted in to prevent any violent anti-globalization demonstrations.

“There’s no doubt that we will discuss how trade frictions could affect the global economy,” a Japanese government official said. “But it is difficult to deliver messages to the outside since a communique won’t be issued.”

Strained relations between the United States and its top allies mean that where once they were in agreement, they now seek the lowest common denominator.

“It won’t be productive to push something that someone — whether it’s America or some other country — would not agree to do,” the Japanese official added.

Moreover, Italy’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday, Canada is heading for an election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence on the world stage is waning ahead of her departure, and Britain is probably on the verge of either leaving the EU or a snap election.

POLITICAL NITROGLYCERINE

One unknown is where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will position himself, making his debut on the global stage at a summit that will lay bare new realities as Britain’s influence in Europe collapses and its dependency on the United States grows.

With less than three months to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU – with or without a divorce deal, according to Johnson – his government has sought to cozy up to Trump’s White House with a view to future trade deals.

Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the combination of two personalities “not well-known for their self-control” was “political nitroglycerine”.

He said it might be entertaining, “but if it actually gets in the way of more substantive proceedings, that would be another story”.

While Johnson will want to avoid crossing a volatile Trump and putting trade ties at risk, analysts say, he will also be wary of alienating himself from other leaders who have a more multilateral approach to world politics.

One French diplomat who declined to be named said Paris was curious to see how the Trump-Johnson dynamic played out in Biarritz:

“Even with Brexit in the background, we still have the sense that the British reflex when it comes to international crises is to turn to us and the Germans first.”

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert in Paris and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Lough and Kevin Liffey)

Iran says meeting with parties to nuclear deal ‘constructive’

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and EEAS Secretary General Helga Schmid attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kirsti Knolle

By Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) – An emergency meeting with parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal was constructive but there are unresolved issues and Tehran will continue to reduce its nuclear commitments if Europeans fail to salvage the pact, Iranian official Abbas Araqchi said on Sunday.

“The atmosphere was constructive. Discussions were good. I cannot say that we resolved everything, I can say there are lots of commitments,” Araqchi, the senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, told reporters after the meeting in Vienna.

Parties to the agreement – Britain, Germany and France plus Russia and China – met Iranian officials for talks called in response to an escalation in tensions between Iran and the West that included confrontations at sea and Tehran’s breaches of the nuclear accord.

“As we have said, we will continue to reduce our commitments to the deal until Europeans secure Iran’s interests under the deal,” Araqchi said.

The parties have been trying to salvage the pact since the United States withdrew from it in May 2018 and re-imposed and toughened sanctions on Iran, crippling an already weak economy.

The Europeans say further breaches of the agreement by Iran would escalate confrontation at a time when Tehran and Washington are at risk of a miscalculation that could lead to war.

However, their efforts to protect trade with Iran against the U.S. sanctions have yielded nothing concrete so far. Earlier this month, Tehran followed through on its threat to increase its nuclear activities in breach of the agreement.

Iran has said it will withdraw from the pact unless the Europeans find ways to shield its economy from the U.S. sanctions.

“All our steps taken so far are reversible if other parties to the deal fulfill their commitments,” an Iranian diplomat told Reuters ahead of the meeting.

In response to the sanctions, Iran said in May it would decrease its commitments under the nuclear pact. Under the deal, most international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016, in exchange for limitations on its nuclear work.

So far, Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile as well as enriching uranium beyond a 3.67% purity limit set by its deal with major powers, defying a warning by Europeans to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, policing the deal, has confirmed the measures announced by Tehran.

SANCTIONS

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who leads the Chinese delegation, said: “All sides have expressed their commitment to safeguard the JCPOA (nuclear deal) and to continue to implement the JCPOA in a balanced manner.

“All sides have expressed their strong opposition against the U.S. unilateral imposition of sanctions.”

The meeting came after Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker on July 19, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar which it said was violating sanctions on Syria.

Araqchi said Britain’s seizure of the Iranian tanker was a violation of the nuclear pact.

“The countries who are part of (the nuclear deal) shouldn’t create obstacles for the export of Iranian oil,” Araqchi said.

Britain has called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital international oil shipping route. An Iranian government spokesman said on Sunday such a mission would send a “hostile message”.

Britain said on Sunday Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan had arrived in the Gulf to join a British frigate escorting British-flagged ships through the Strait.

The seizure of the British tanker in the world’s most important waterway for the oil trade has deepened a crisis between Iran and the West. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain’s seizure of the Iranian oil tanker was illegal and would be detrimental for Britain.

After meeting Iranian officials in Tehran, Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah said all parties should maintain contact to avoid more incidents in the Strait.

Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the waterway if the United States tries to strangle its economy with sanctions on its vital oil exports.

Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the United States blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.

Iran in June shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf, which Tehran said had violated its air space. Washington said the drone was in international skies.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Writing by Parisa Hafezi,; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Trump says U.S. may send 2,000 troops from Germany to Poland

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Poland's President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he is considering sending 2,000 U.S. troops from Germany to Poland, a step sought by Warsaw to deter potential aggression from Russia.

“We’re talking about it,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The United States already has troops in Poland as part of a 2016 agreement with the NATO military alliance in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Poland’s eastern neighbor Ukraine in 2014.

Trump said the United States has upwards of 50,000 troops in Germany and said 2,000 of them could be sent to Poland. He said Poland is going to be spending a lot of money on a military facility for the troops.

He also said he hopes Russia “will treat Poland with respect.”

“They get hurt unfortunately too often,” Trump said of the Poles. “They’re in the middle of everything. When bad things happen it seems like Poland is the first one…I hope that Russia and Poland and Germany are going to get along,” said Trump, who has often been criticized by Democrats for being too close to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. president said he thought he would travel to Poland at some point, but no dates were set yet. Duda has said he would unveil a deal this week to bolster the U.S. security presence in Poland.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Trump, Macron honor D-Day veterans who fought through “fires of hell”

U.S. and French flags are seen in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Marine Pennetier and Steve Holland

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) – France will never forget the sacrifice of the Allied troops who liberated it from Nazi Germany, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day operation that helped bring World War Two to an end.

U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May joined Macron at separate ceremonies along a 80km (50 mile) stretch of Normandy coastline, where more than 150,000 soldiers landed on June 6, 1944, under a hail of German fire.

“We know what we owe to you, our veterans: our freedom. On behalf of my country, I want to say ‘thank you’,” Macron told several dozen American D-Day combatants at a U.S. war cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, one of five landing spots in Normandy.

“France will never forget.”

People take pictures in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy ahead of the commemoration ceremony for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

People take pictures in the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy ahead of the commemoration ceremony for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Macron awarded the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest award for merit, to five U.S. veterans and embraced each man warmly.

The Normandy landings were months in the planning and were kept secret from Hitler and his forces despite a huge trans-Atlantic mobilization of industry and manpower.

Under the cover of darkness, thousands of Allied paratroopers jumped behind Germany’s coastal defenses. Then, as day broke, warships pounded German positions before hundreds of landing craft disgorged the infantry troops under a barrage of machine-gun fire and artillery.

Some veterans say the sea and sand turned red with blood during the operation. Dozens of U.S. Rangers were felled by German machine-guns as they scaled the cliffs rising up from Omaha Beach to Colleville-sur-Mer, where the U.S. cemetery lies.

“You are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live,” Trump said in his address, turning to the surviving veterans. “You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of our republic and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

“These men moved through the fires of hell,” he said. “They came here and saved freedom, and then they went home and showed us all what freedom is about.”

People applauded as one of the veterans, 94-year-old Private Russell Pickett, rose shakily to his feet. “Tough guy,” Trump said, before Macron helped lower Pickett back into his seat.

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S President Donald Trump stand during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S President Donald Trump stand during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“SPECIAL GENERATION”

The Normandy landings remain the largest ever amphibious invasion and paved the way for western Europe’s liberation.

Inaugurating a memorial to the 22,000 soldiers under British command who were killed on June 6, 1944, and in the ensuing battle for Normandy, British Prime Minister Theresa May saluted the bravery of the soldiers, many of whom were still boys when they waded ashore as shells screamed overhead.

“It’s almost impossible to grasp the raw courage it must have taken that day to leap from landing craft and into the surf despite the fury of battle,” May told a small gathering that included Macron and veterans, their uniforms laden with medals.

“These young men belonged to a very special generation … whose incomparable spirit shaped our post-war world,” she said.

The devastation wrought by two world wars in the first half of the 20th century fostered a decades-long era of cooperation between European capitals determined to protect their hard-fought peace, giving rise to what is now the European Union.

But even as Britain now tries to sever its ties with the bloc after four decades of membership, Macron told May some links between France and Britain were indestructible.

“Nothing will ever take away the links of spilled blood and shared values. The debates of the present in no way take away from the past.”

SACRIFICED LIVES

An hour after sunrise, under clear blue skies, a lone piper on the remnants of an artificial harbor played Highland Laddie to mark the hour the first British soldier set foot on French sand. The Mulberry Harbor was built to supply allied troops as they pushed the Germans back.

Restored wartime jeeps and amphibious vehicles lined the beach at Arromanches and in villages along the Normandy shore the flags of Britain, Canada and the United States, the main contributors to the Allied force, fluttered in the breeze.

The commemorations come against the backdrop of two years of forthright diplomacy and “America First” policymaking by Trump and his administration that have shaken the NATO alliance and tested relations with allies including Britain and France.

On the eve of the anniversary, France’s president evoked the spirit of D-Day, saying: “These allied forces that together freed us from the German yoke, and from tyranny, are the same ones that were able to build the existing multilateral structures after World War Two.

“We must not repeat history, and remind ourselves what was built on the basis of the war,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Caen and Paris bureau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Heavens)

Germany buries remains of Nazi-era prisoners used for research

A woman holds flowers during the burial of the remains of victims executed during the Nazi-era in Germany and used for research at Berlin's Charite university hospital during the Holocaust at Dorotheenstaedt cemetery in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) – Human tissue from some 300 women dissidents whose bodies were used for medical research after they were executed by the Nazis was buried on Monday in a shared grave at a Berlin cemetery.

The grave will be marked by a plaque but will not name the identified victims at the request of their families.

Microscope slides holding tissue samples from the victims were handed over to the Brandenburg Medical School in 2016 by the heirs of an anatomy professor who had conducted research on the bodies of prisoners killed by the Nazis.

Hermann Stieve, who specialized in the female reproductive system while working at the Charite hospital in the 1930s and 40s, received the bodies of women executed at Ploetzensee prison in Berlin, sometimes just 30 minutes after their death. He used the bodies to research the effects of stress on women’s anatomy, historians say.

A man throws ashes during the burial of the remains of victims executed during the Nazi-era in Germany and used for research at Berlin's Charite university hospital during the Holocaust at Dorotheenstaedt cemetery in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

A man throws ashes during the burial of the remains of victims executed during the Nazi-era in Germany and used for research at Berlin’s Charite university hospital during the Holocaust at Dorotheenstaedt cemetery in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

At the burial ceremony on Monday, a pallbearer carried a wooden box containing the remains of the victims to a shared, unnamed grave at the Dorotheenstadt cemetery.

The box was buried near a memorial at the cemetery for other victims of the Nazi dictatorship.

“The decision was taken together with the relatives of the resistance fighters and I think it is important to bury them simply because at the time these people were denied a grave,” said Andreas Winkelmann of the Brandenburg Medical School.

“And that’s what Stieve took part in. He helped the murderous justice system to deny these people a grave … We decided to bury them even though you don’t usually bury microscopic slides,” he added.

More than 2,800 prisoners were executed at Ploetzensee prison between 1933 and 1945.

Stieve died of a stroke in 1952.

(Reporting by Tanya Wood; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Frances Kerry)