Merkel and Hollande dig in their heels despite attacks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during a news conference in Berlin on July 28.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during a news conference in Berlin on July 28.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BERLIN/RIVESALTES (France) • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rebuffed calls to reverse her welcoming stance towards refugees in the wake of a series of brutal attacks in the country.

Dr Merkel, who interrupted a summer holiday to face the media in Berlin yesterday, said the four assaults within a week were "shocking, oppressive and depressing" but not a sign that the authorities had lost control.

"The terrorists want to make us lose sight of what is important to us, break down our cohesion and sense of community as well as inhibit our way of life, our openness and our willingness to take in people who are in need," she told the news conference. "They see hatred and fear between cultures and they see hatred and fear between religions. We stand decisively against that."

She repeated her rallying cry from last year when she opened the borders to people fleeing war and persecution, many from Syria, which brought nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees to the country last year.

"I am still convinced today that 'we can do it' - it is our historic duty and this is a historic challenge in times of globalisation," she said.

"We have already achieved very, very much in the last 11 months."

Dr Merkel was speaking after an axe rampage, a shooting spree, a knife attack and a suicide bombing stunned Germany, leaving 13 dead, including three assailants, and dozens wounded.

Three of the four attackers were asylum seekers, and two of the assaults were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Dr Merkel said she would not allow extremists, following a series of deadly attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey and the US state of Florida as well as Germany, to keep her government from being guided by reason and compassion.

"Despite the great unease these events inspire, fear can't be the guide for political decisions," she said. "It is my deep conviction that we cannot let our way of life be destroyed."

While the German political class has largely called for calm, opposition parties and rebels from Dr Merkel's own conservative bloc have accused her of exposing the country to unacceptable risks without stricter controls on people let in.

The German attacks came with two state elections looming in September, in Berlin and in Dr Merkel's home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and a year before a general election.

Meanwhile in France, which has suffered a spate of deadly extremist attacks, the latest on Tuesday when a priest was killed in church by militants, President Francois Hollande voiced a similar conviction to stand by "French values and principles".

"France will always be France, because France will never yield and because France is always the bearer of ideals, values and principles, for which we are recognised throughout the world," he said in a speech in the south-west town of Rivesaltes.

He was responding to comments by right-wing White House hopeful Donald Trump that France was "no longer" the country it was because of the terrorist attacks.

"When you lower your standards, you are no longer what you are. That's something that may happen to others, on the other side of the Atlantic," Mr Hollande added without naming Mr Trump.

The French leader's office confirmed plans to set up a National Guard drawn from existing reserves to help security forces combat terror attacks on French soil.

A "defence council" to be held early next month will hammer out the force's hierarchy and command structure, the office said in a statement.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Merkel and Hollande dig in their heels despite attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe