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Merkel interrupts vacation to face press

Darko Janjevic (dpa, AFP, Reuters)July 28, 2016

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to hold a press conference in Berlin after keeping a low profile as a wave of violent attacks shook Germany. Merkel is also taking flak for her refugee policy amid the unrest.

Angela Merkel Bundespressekonferenz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W.Kumm

During the 90-minute conference on Thursday, Merkel is expected to answer questions on the recent terror strikes, but also purges in Turkey, Brexit, and new fissures inside the ruling coalition.

However, political pressure is believed to be the key reason for Merkel to cut her vacation short and move up the large press event, traditionally held at the end of August each year. It was during last year's summer press conference that the chancellor uttered her famous "We can do this" ("Wir schaffen das") line on accepting migrants.

The chancellor is now under fire from both the opposition and some allies over the "failed" migrant policy, after one asylum seeker went on a stabbing rampage in Würzburg and another blew himself up having sought admission to a music festival in Ansbach. The Ansbach bomber was a Syrian refugee who was set to be deported to Bulgaria over a year ago, he was refused entry to the festival and detonated in a restaurant.

Just hours before the Ansbach bombing, another Syrian killed a woman with a machete and injured two more people in Reutlingen in an alleged crime of passion. In the same week, a mentally troubled German-Iranian killed nine people in Munich, although police currently theorize that the shooting was not politically motivated.

Berlin 'flippant' on migrants

Bavaria's state premier, Horst Seehofer, a long standing critic of Berlin's open-door policy, demanded tough security measures and more deportations.

"All our predictions have been proven right," he said on Tuesday. "Islamist terrorism has arrived in Germany."

Both the populist AfD and the far-left Left Party also criticized Merkel.

"For security reasons, we cannot allow even more Muslims to come to Germany without control," the controversial AfD vice chief Alexander Gauland said, calling for a temporary halt to granting asylum to Muslims.

Linke-representative Sahra Wagenknecht decried Merkel's "We can do it" policy as "flippant."

Others have slammed Merkel for her muted response since the attacks and her absence from the scene.

'Timid and defensive'

With the wave of attacks, the "terror in Allah's name has reached Germany and ruined the chancellor's vacation plans," German Mannheimer Morgen newspaper commented in its Thursday edition.

"Merkel's long silence on the attacks and the professorial tone which her faithful lieutenants (…) use to sweep any criticism of the chancellor and her policy under the rug, are a bit other-worldly. Merkel's calm and soothing manner of dealing with problems has long been the secret of her success. Now, this deliberation appears timid and defensive."

'Farewell culture'

In a separate comment, the Frankfurter Rundschau daily criticized politicians inside Merkel's own camp who pushed for the German "culture of welcome" to be replaced with a "culture of farewell."

"The farewell culture can long be seen on the streets of Germany. Sixty-five attacks on foreigners were registered in May this year alone, with 58 foreigners falling victim to them. The culture of farewell has good chances of becoming dominant in Germany."

Despite the heated debate, Berlin insiders believe Merkel is unlikely to reverse her migrant policy and impose limits on the number of foreigners entering the country. An overly hesitant response, however, would boost the populist forces and possibly harm Merkel's chances in the 2017 elections.

The current chancellor has yet to announce if she intents to pursue her fourth mandate as head of government.