US to send 500 extra troops to Germany ‘as early as fall’, Pentagon chief says, as Berlin praises ‘strong signal of solidarity’

The American military presence in Germany will be increased by 500 soldiers, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said, reversing the policy of former President Donald Trump.

Around 500 additional troops will be permanently stationed in the city of Wiesbaden “as early as this fall,” Austin said at news conference with his German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Berlin. Wiesbaden already houses a US Army base, and a military airfield is located nearby.

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FILE PHOTO. Pentagon in Washington © AP Photo / Charles Dharapak
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Austin said new soldiers will “augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict and, if necessary, to fight and win.” He added that more troops will increase the capacity for space, cyber and electronic warfare, and improve the ability to “surge forces at a moment’s notice to defend our allies.”

Local media quoted Kramp-Karrenbauer as saying that the news of additional forces is a “strong signal of solidarity” between Berlin and Washington, and that German authorities will do their best to accommodate American troops. She also praised Austin, calling him “a friend of this country.”

Former President Trump planned to withdraw 12,000 of around 35,000 American soldiers from Germany and relocate them elsewhere in Europe. The scheduled pullout, heavily criticized by officials in Berlin who argued it would undermine NATO, was halted by President Joe Biden back in February.

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Stock futures sink after US calls for pause of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine rollout due to health issues

US stock futures slid on Tuesday morning after US federal health officials called for a pause in the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine amid concerns over rare blood clots.

Contracts on the Dow Jones sold off 200 points following the news. The S&P 500 futures were down 0.3% at 4,127, while Nasdaq also pivoted lower by 0.3%. A day earlier, all the three major indexes ended slightly below record levels.

Shares of Dow component Johnson & Johnson also sank almost 3% in pre-market trading on Tuesday.

“We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a Twitter post, pointing toward six “extremely rare” cases of people suffering a “severe type of blood clot” after being vaccinated. Over 6.8 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with even more having gotten the job internationally.

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FILE PHOTO: A vial of the Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine is seen at Northwell Health's South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, New York, U.S., March 3, 2021.
FDA calls for ‘pause’ on Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine after six women get blood clot disorder resulting in one death

The health agencies said they are reviewing data over six reported US cases of a severe blood clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine, and have recommended the pause “out of an abundance of caution,” the FDA added.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that “no clear causal relationship” has been identified between the blood clots and the vaccine, adding it is working closely with regulators to assess the data.

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I came, Warsaw, I conquered! Belarusian MP says Poland wants to subjugate his country two centuries since collapse of empire

One of Minsk’s most controversial lawmakers, who previously claimed opposition protests were part of a foreign plot, now insists that neighboring Poland is intent on taking back Belarus in a bid to revive its former Commonwealth.

Andrey Savinykh, a deputy in the country’s House of Representatives and Chairman of the International Affairs Commission, said on Sunday that its old imperial overlord once again had ambitions for conquest in Europe.

“Tolerance, and a multicultural philosophy, are inherent in Belarusians,” he claimed, “hence the conflict with the Poles. Poland would like to see us not as a multicultural, multinational nation but part of Polish hegemony, speaking Polish and becoming mostly Catholic.”

According to the MP, Warsaw still upholds its status as a “land power” and is keen to assimilate the territories it lost after the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which included much of modern-day Belarus. The EU state, he claimed, “remakes the population that falls into its zone of influence as its own.”

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of Europe’s most advanced political unions throughout most of the 17th century, with territory now controlled by Moscow and Ukraine falling under its control. It was characterized, at least initially, by its multi-ethnic population and, while nominally Catholic, also encompassed many Orthodox believers. However, Polish remained the language of the state and the judiciary, and proficiency in its use was a symbol of status.

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© Sputnik / Victor Tolochko
Belarusian protesters commanded from abroad, including Poland, UK & Czech Republic – President Lukashenko

Savinykh also claimed that recent restrictions and political action imposed from Brussels was part of the plan to regain control over the country. “The sanctions are primarily aimed at slowing down the socio-economic development of the country,” he said, “thereby worsening the situation of the entire population, creating hotbeds of destabilization and forcing them to ultimately support new powers.”

Belarus’ embattled veteran leader, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed last year that political turmoil in the country was being directed from abroad. As long-running protests ignited following a disputed presidential election, in which he declared himself the winner, Lukashenko said that Poland, along with the UK and the Czech Republic, had tried to fix the results.

“They were controlling our, I beg your pardon, sheep: they don’t understand what they’re doing and they’re being controlled already,” he insisted. The opposition, and many international observers, have declared that the election was rigged in Lukashenko’s favor, and mass demonstrations calling for a fresh vote have run on for months.

Despite branding the opposition Western-backed “puppets,” the long-time president has committed to stepping back from the top job once a new constitution is in place. He has claimed that a transition of power before the new document is voted through would be a “disaster.”

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However, former election candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled the country for nearby Lithuania shortly after the vote, has alleged that the process is simply a stalling tactic. “I don’t think that Lukashenko will step down voluntarily,” she said. “By talking about the new constitution, Lukashenko attempts to buy himself time to justify his staying in power. All his promises are fake. The rhetoric is used to deceive the West.”

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Candidates to succeed Merkel can’t count on her support: Germany’s veteran leader promises to stay out of debate

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she is keeping out of any debate that will see the conservative bloc leader crowned, amid fears it could damage the alliance in the federal election at the end of September.

“I wanted to, want to, and will stay out of it,” Merkel told reporters on Tuesday when she was asked whether the struggle to succeed her as party leader could impact the alliance’s electoral performance. 

Merkel’s conservative bloc is poised to pick her successor in a two-man showdown between Christian Democrat party (CDU) chairman Armin Laschet or the leader of its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), Markus Soeder. Each party has given its backing to its own leader after the two men officially threw their hats into the ring on Sunday. 

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(L) Armin Laschet © Tobias Schwarz / Pool via REUTERS; (R) Markus Soeder © Markus Schreiber / Pool via REUTERS
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Soeder and Laschet are expected at the meeting of the alliance parliamentary group on Tuesday afternoon. 

In 2018, Merkel told the media that she wouldn’t be standing for a fifth term, and she has stood by her remarks despite consistent talk that she may compete in 2021. The veteran leader, who took office in 2005, is now 66 and relinquished her parallel post of CDU chairman in 2018. 

Merkel’s successor as alliance leader will be the favorite to lead the country after the September election. Soeder, the premier of Bavaria, has higher poll ratings, while Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, leads Germany’s largest single party.

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Israel sets date to open borders to vaccinated foreign tourists

Vaccinated foreign tourists who come “in groups” will be allowed into Israel starting on May 23, according to a joint statement from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism.

The “first phase” of the new tourism policy starts on May 23, and depending on the outcome, the authorities will consider whether to let more visitors in.

The statement explains that tourists in groups are “easier to monitor”.

It is time to facilitate tourism in a careful and calculated way,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in the statement.

Tourists will be required to undergo a PCR test before boarding an Israel-bound plane, and to take PCR and serology tests to prove vaccination or recovery upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. The Ministry says Israel is discussing possible introduction of “vaccination certificates” with other countries and plans to issue guidelines for the tourists in the coming days.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen says Israel has “the advantage of being a safe and healthy country” and the opening of tourism is necessary to help the economy recover.

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Israeli Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives the second dose of the Covid-19  vaccine, January 9, 2021.
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Last week Israel’s Immigration Authority announced that foreigners who were vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 would be able to enter Israel to visit first-degree relatives. Previously, foreigners were only permitted to enter Israel under exceptional circumstances, such as to receive essential medical treatment or to attend a funeral of a first-degree relative.

Health Minister Edelstein has called Israel “the first vaccinated state”, referring to the country’s fast immunization campaign, which has already involved more than half of its population of 9 million. Also in place is a system of so-called green passports – digital documents issued to those who have been vaccinated or recovered from coronavirus. The passport is required to enter certain places and to participate in certain activities and mass gatherings. And while the measures have seen the infection rates drop dramatically, critics point to the fact that the restrictions imposed on those who refuse the jab essentially leave people with little choice and create inequality.

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Police use water cannons to disperse mob as ultra-Orthodox Jews continue violent resistance to Covid rules in Jerusalem (VIDEO)

Earlier this year Israel saw rallies against the nationwide lockdown and coronavirus-related restrictions turning violent as protesters clashed with police and set cars on fire.

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