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POLITICS

Merkel wraps up Latin America tour with Mexico visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has wrapped up a four-nation tour of Latin America with talks on investment and the environment on a brief visit to Mexico.

Merkel wraps up Latin America tour with Mexico visit
Photo: DPA - Hitzfeld celebrates with the team

Merkel on Monday offered to worker more closely with Mexico, whose President Felipe Calderon said he was determined to gain “privileged relations” with the European powerhouse.

“I come with the offer of a fair association to defend our common interests,” said Merkel, who had visited Brazil, Peru and Colombia before reaching Mexico.

Her visit came two days after she attended a summit of European Union and Latin American leaders in the Peruvian capital Lima, where Mexico was given “strategic partner” status with the European Union.

Germany is Mexico’s top trading partner among EU member states, Calderon said, noting that bilateral trade had almost doubled between 2000 and 2007 from $7.3 billion to $15 billion.

“We are determined to push for privileged relations with Germany,” Calderon said.

Merkel was expected back in Berlin on Tuesday.

POLITICS

‘Not harmless nutcases’: German authorities identify new suspects in alleged coup plot

German authorities have identified more suspects after the major raids against the Reichsbürger, who allegedly sought to overthrow the government. Here’s what we know so far.

'Not harmless nutcases': German authorities identify new suspects in alleged coup plot

Germany has now identified 54 suspects and conducted more than 150 searches, Federal Criminal Office (BKA) President Holger Münch told public broadcaster ARD on Thursday.

The current suspects include an eccentric aristocrat known for his outspoken conspiracy theories, as well as former militia and an Alternative for Germany (AfD) member who until recently sat in German parliament.

READ ALSO: Who was involved in the alleged plot to ‘overthrow German democracy’?

Weapons – including crossbows and rifles – were also found at around 50 locations, Münch said, adding that there would likely be more suspects and searches in the coming days.

On Wednesday around 3,000 federal police carried officers carried out raids and arrests on a total of 25 people in eleven German states, as well as Italy and Austria.

Those arrested on Wednesday included “a dangerous mix of people with irrational convictions, some with a lot of money and others in possession of weapons”, Münch said.

They had put in place “a plan that they also intended to carry out… That makes it dangerous and that is why we intervened,” he said.

However, “We should not assume that a group with a few dozen members, maybe a hundred, is able to really challenge the state system in Germany,” Münch said.

“We have identified other people whose status in relation to this group we do not yet know exactly,” he said.
The group is thought to be made up of supporters of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbürger), an ideological movement in Germany that encompasses far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts.

The Reichsbürger generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-World War I German Reich, or empire, under a monarchy and several groups have declared their own states.

Long-time targets

Germany’s security authorities had been targeting the Reichsbürger group since the spring and had a fairly clear overview of its development and plans, according to Thomas Haldenwang, the President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Their plans then became increasingly concrete and weapons were procured, Haldenwang told public broadcaster ZDF.

“The German security authorities as a whole had the situation under control at all times,” he said. “But if it had been up to this group, this danger was already quite real.”

BKA chief Münch rejected accusations that authorities waited until the last moment to act. Rather, he said, the had wanted to gather enough evidence that a terrorist organization was behind the plans. There was no clarity yet on the timing of the overtly planned coup, he added. 

Heinrich XIII

The arrested Heinrich XIII, Prince of Preuss sits in a police car in Frankfurt on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

‘Anything but harmless nutcases’

Terrorism expert Peter Neumann said that the group is “able and willing to carry out serious terrorist attacks against the state,” Neumann told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland . 

“They formulate resistance narratives most clearly and claim to have the right and legitimacy to wage armed resistance against the state,” Neumann said.

CSU interior affairs expert Andrea Lindholz saw a “new quality” in the group’s willingness to use violence. 

Reichsbürger are “anything but harmless nutcases and conspiracy theorists,” the deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group told the Rheinische Post newspaper on Thursday.

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser also warned against underestimating the group. What made them so dangerous, she said, was “that there was a military arm of it. With people who used to be in the Bundeswehr, so they can also handle weapons,” the SPD politician told public broadcaster ARD.

Haldenwang told ARD that security checks needed to be conducted on all people who are accepted into the security agencies of the federal and state governments.

The Reichsbürger scene has been underestimated for too long, said Germany’s Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which is committed to combating right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism.

Repeatedly in recent years, there had been clear signs that the followers were ready to use violence and were apparently also well organized, extremism researcher Lorenz Blumenthaler, who works for the foundation, told the DPA. 

“But especially in security circles, the groups have often been ridiculed and their enormous potential danger taken lightly, despite intensive warnings from civil society.” 

The issue, however, has been high on the political agenda ever since authorities foiled plans to kidnap German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in April, he said.

 “Nobody is really laughing [at the threat] anymore.”

White House offers support

The U.S. government has offered support to Germany following Wednesday’s crackdown.

“We remain in close contact with our partners in government and stand ready to help if asked,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told DPA on Wednesday when asked if the U.S. was offering Germany intelligence on the matter.

She said they welcome the diligence of the German government and its law enforcement agencies in the fight “against violent extremism” and for the “security of its citizens and government facilities.”

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