Merkel’s party in turmoil after far-right vote debacle

Frankfurt - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are in crisis mode after regional MPs sided with the far-right in a key vote, causing nationwide outrage and testing her leadership. Merkel condemned Wednesday’s “unforgivable” vote in the small state of Thuringia, where her CDU party voted in the same camp as the anti-immigrant AfD to block the re-election of a leftist state premier. Thanks to the CDU and AfD, Thomas Kemmerich of the liberal Free Democrats, one of Germany’s smaller parties, ousted incumbent premier Bodo Ramelow from the far-left Die Linke party by one vote. It marked the first time a state premier had been voted into office with help from the far right, shattering a taboo in Germany where mainstream parties have always ruled out working with the AfD. Faced with an uproar, Kemmerich offered his resignation just 25 hours later and called for snap elections. But the wider aftershocks are only just being felt in Berlin. “Merkel’s fatal error,” headlined the conservative newspaper Die Welt, accusing the veteran chancellor of failing to find a strategy to deal with the growing might of the AfD. Merkel’s centre-left coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), are fuming about the apparent betrayal in Thuringia. The two sides will hold crisis talks on Saturday in the latest stress test for the fragile alliance. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered to restore trust,” said SPD co-leader Saskia Esken.

Coronavirus cases on Japan cruise ship treble to 61

Yokohama, Japan - Another 41 people on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan have the new coronavirus, the country’s health minister said Friday, confirming more on board will now be tested for the illness. The newly diagnosed infections mean at least 61 people from the ship have contracted the virus, which has killed hundreds of people, most of them in China, and infected more than 30,000 on the mainland. Japanese authorities have so far tested 273 people on board the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined after a former passenger, who disembarked in Hong Kong last month, was diagnosed with the virus. “The results of the remaining 171 tests came out and 41 tested positive,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “Today they will be sent to hospitals in several prefectures, and we are now preparing for that.” “In total, out of 273 specimens, 61 tested positive,” he added. The newly diagnosed include 21 Japanese, as well as Americans, Canadians, Australians, an Argentine and a Briton. There were more than 3,700 passengers and crew on the ship when it arrived off Japan’s coast on Monday evening. It docked in Yokohama on Thursday to resupply for a quarantine that could last until February 19. Twenty people who were earlier diagnosed with the virus have already been removed from the vessel, including one who is in serious condition, a health ministry official said, without providing further details.