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Thuringia state premier calls for new polls to undo ‘stain’ of far-right AfD vote

The premier of Germany's Thuringia state stepped down and called for snap elections Thursday, barely 24 hours after he was elected with the help of far-right AfD lawmakers.

Thuringia state premier calls for new polls to undo 'stain' of far-right AfD vote
'Not my state premier': Protesters in Erfurt on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Thomas Kemmerich, from the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), said he would apply for the regional parliament to be dissolved in response to the outrage over his appointment, which drew comparisons with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s.

“We want new elections to remove the stain of the AfD's support from the office of the premiership,” he told reporters, adding that his resignation was “unavoidable”.

Thomas Kemmerich on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Kemmerich's election on Wednesday marked the first time in German post-war history that a state premier was heaved into office by accepting votes from the far right, crossing a red line in a nation haunted by its Nazi past.

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He became the surprise winner of a run-off vote after AfD lawmakers ditched  their own candidate to back him, in what Kemmerich called “a perfidious trick” by the far right.

Christian Lindner, national leader of the FDP, one of Germany's smaller parties, said Kemmerich was right to free himself “from dependency on the AfD”.

But given the political storm, Lindner said it was necessary to reaffirm  his own position at an emergency meeting of the party's leadership in Berlin on Friday.

“I plan to call a vote of confidence,” he told reporters.

Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier called the vote “unforgivable” and said the result “must be reversed”.

She reiterated that her centre-right CDU would never work with the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD, on a regional or national level.

The SPD and CDU are due to hold crisis talks in Berlin on Saturday.

Aftershocks felt throughout Germany

Thousands took to the streets in cities across Germany late Wednesday to vent their dismay at the vote outcome, including in Berlin, Frankfurt and Thuringia's capital Erfurt.

Some carried signs that read “Never again” and “Voters betrayed”, while  others recalled that it was in Thuringia in 1930 that a Nazi minister was first allowed into government.

The aftershocks of the crisis were being felt elsewhere too, since Thuringian state lawmakers from Merkel's own CDU lined up with the FDP and far right in voting for Kemmerich over popular incumbent Bodo Ramelow from the far-left Die Linke.

In states across Germany's former communist east, the AfD is a major political force and mainstream parties are increasingly scrambling to keep it locked out of the corridors of power.

Since its creation in 2003, the AfD has gone from strength to strength in Germany, capitaliing on anger over Merkel's 2015 decision to allow in over a million asylum seekers.

At the last general election, the party scored almost 13 percent nationwide and won its first seats in the German parliament.

The Social Democrats' Walter-Borjans warned that the world was watching how Germany was dealing with the rise of the far right and the “breach in the dam” in Thuringia.

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POLITICS

How successful was Germany’s latest ‘Warning Day’?

For Germany's second emergency 'Warning Day' Thursday, all cell phones were set to sound off at 11am, but many stayed silent. Here's the verdict from the country's latest attempt to check its emergency systems.

How successful was Germany's latest 'Warning Day'?

Using so-called cell broadcast technology for the first time, all cell phone users in Germany with a German phone number were to receive a blaring emergency notification for the second Warntag (warning day). This was to test how well they would be alerted to an actual urgent situation, such as flash flooding or a blackout.

The technology sends out alerts regardless of the phone provider or if a person is signed up for them. Even if their phone is switched to silent mode, phone users receive a loud buzzing notification that’s hard to ignore.

READ ALSO: All cell phone users in Germany to be part of disaster ‘warning day’

But on Thursday at 11 am that was not the case for everyone.

According to initial information from the BKK, many Telekom customers in particular did not receive the warnings.

Another warning day is already planned for September of next year, in what will now be an annual test.

Deactivated test warnings in the phones’ system settings could also be a reason for the phones remaining silent. Many older models, such as the iPhone 6 or devices with Android 10, are also unable to use cell broadcast.

But the day was still deemed a “success”, according to BKK President Ralph Tiesler in a statement.

“According to preliminary findings, the nationwide Warning Day 2022 was a success!” said Tiesler. “The interaction of the individual systems has worked and people have become aware of the important topic of warnings. It is still too early for conclusive results. 

“We will now evaluate the feedback and thus be able to further optimize the systems. There’s still room for improvement.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) called the test “an important step” in improving how well people in Germany are protected in an emergency. 

People around Germany can also chime in with how well the test worked – or didn’t – using an official survey: https://warntag-umfrage.de/

Other warnings 

Even the warning apps Katwarn or NINA didn’t show an alert for all users, or only did 20 minutes past the 11am deadline.

Around Germany sirens sounded off, billboards flashed warnings at train stations and, in some communities, emergency vehicles drove through the streets broadcasting the test warning.

But some cities – including larger ones like Berlin – stayed particularly silent as they are not yet connected to a Modular Warning System. 

Berlin was also set to have 400 sirens installed by the end of 2022, although only 20 of them had been installed by August, according to the Tagesspiegel.

The importance of reliable warning systems was highlighted by the flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia in July 2021, when people were not informed in time of the impending danger. Afterwards, a broad debate arose on how this could be improved.

Amid an energy crisis and war within Europe, many people are also hypervigilant about what Germany would do in the event of a wide-reaching emergency.

For previous emergencies, local authorities have relied upon sirens, loudspeaker announcements or radio and TV bulletins to warn residents of acute danger or issue evacuation orders.

There are also smartphone apps to keep users up to date on extreme weather in their area.

But Bild newspaper condemned the “failure” to take early action during the mass flooding in 2021.

“The sirens stayed quiet in plenty of places, very few alerts were issued,” it wrote, labelling the deadly flooding that followed “a disaster for civil protection, one of the state’s most essential jobs”.

The first countywide Warning Day took place in September 2020, without cell broadcast notifications, and was widely considered an abject failure. In the aftermath of the test, authorities were criticised for failing to learn from the issues they had experienced in time for the floods in 2021. 

READ ALSO: Germany questions warning system after flood catastrophe

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