German CDU premier drops support for Laschet chancellery run

FILE PHOTO: News conference on coal phase-out laws in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff attends a news conference on coal phase-out laws in Berlin, Germany July 3, 2020. John MacDougall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

April 15, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – A leading German Christian Democrat has called for the conservative bloc’s choice of chancellor candidate for September’s election to be dependent on popularity ratings, effectively shifting his support behind Bavarian Markus Soeder.

With CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel stepping down after the election, pressure is mounting on the bloc to agree on a candidate as its ratings wallow near a one-year low, hurt by the government’s chaotic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The race between Armin Laschet, CDU chairman, and Soeder, head of the CDU’s Bavarian CSU sister party, has descended into a messy spat despite both men vowing on Sunday to make a quick and amicable decision.

Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff, a member of the CDU executive committee that unanimously backed Laschet on Monday, told Der Spiegel magazine that popularity should be the decisive factor in settling the candidacy question.

“Unfortunately, it is now all about the hard question of power: with whom do we have the best chance?” Haseloff said in comments published on Thursday. “It’s not about personal affection, trust or character traits.”

Haseloff’s comments make him the first leading CDU politician to distance himself from his party chief, who has been found to be far less popular than Soeder in repeated opinion polls.

Soeder’s Bavarian swagger, confidence and directness has won him support even beyond his southern state during the pandemic. By contrast, Laschet has flip-flopped on lockdown measures, turning off voters.

Haseloff is one of seven conservative state premiers, including Laschet and Soeder.

Haseloff’s state of Saxony-Anhalt lies in eastern Germany, where CDU members tend to lean towards the right. Laschet, from North Rhine-Westphalia in the west, is a centrist. Haseloff also faces a regional election on June 6, ahead of the federal vote.

There is no formal procedure for choosing the CDU/CSU candidate as in the past the candidates have decided behind closed doors.

Laschet, 60, is widely seen as a candidate who would continue Merkel’s legacy, though he has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions. Soeder, 54, is an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic.

No chancellor has ever come from Soeder’s Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the smaller sister party to the CDU.

While the CDU is loathe to see the balance of power in the conservative alliance shift towards the smaller party, many in the CDU are nervous about their prospects at the Sept. 26 election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories.

(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Families need cannabis prescriptions support, say MPs and peers

MPs and peers are calling for funding for families forced to buy medicinal cannabis for their children privately.

The treatment was made legal with a prescription in 2018 for those with an “exceptional clinical need”.

But a cross-party letter from 100 politicians says only three NHS prescriptions have been given out since, forcing families to spend thousands on private treatments.

The government said it sympathised with those facing hard-to-treat conditions.

The change in law came about after the high profile cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who had both been denied access to cannabis oil to treat their rare forms of epilepsy.

The Home Office later granted the boys licences to access the treatment.

But after a review by experts, the then home secretary Sajid Javid introduced legislation to make it legal for specialist doctors to provide prescriptions for cannabis-derived medicinal products in “exceptional circumstances”.

Over two years have passed since the law changed, but the All Parliamentary Group on Access to Medical Cannabis Under Prescription said dozens of families were not seeing the benefit.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the group’s chair, Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, said instead, parents were having to fund raise up to £2,000 a month to pay for the treatment privately.

“In any circumstance, this is a severe financial burden for families already having to cope with very sick children and Covid restrictions have rendered most fund-raising impossible,” she added.

“The reasons for the lack of NHS prescriptions appear to be complex and will inevitably take time to resolve. However, the families to which we refer simply do not have time.

“They are emotionally and financially broken and their children are at risk of being without their life-transforming medicine within weeks.”

Backed by 100 MPs and peers from all parties, Ms Antoniazzi appealed to the PM to “grant access to some form of compassionate funding until the wider issues can be resolved”.

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‘I really wanted support’: Vunivalu grateful for Thorn’s backing after rocky start in rugby

“(Thorn) just said this is just a minor setback,” Vunivalu said.

“The only way you can get better is what you can do afterwards. And that’s what I’m trying to do, just keep my head down and try to show on field that I’m better than that.

“It’s really easy coming from him because he’s a player himself. At that time I really wanted support and him talking to me was really good.”

Vunivalu was forced to apologise to his teammates, too.

“It was hard standing in front of them, addressing them,” he said.

“It’s not a good look for me, just being there four weeks and that incident happened.”

Vunivalu is grateful for the opportunity to win back respect on the field and is hoping to return for Queensland in their next clash against the Force on April 23, after a bye.

But the Reds haven’t missed Vunivalu, and proved themselves as the new benchmark of Australian Super Rugby after another comeback win against the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

Vunivalu paid Thorn a big compliment by likening him to Bellamy, his legendary coach at the Storm.

Vunivalu says Brad Thorn is like Craig BellamyCredit:Getty

“Thorny is pretty much like Craig, pretty old school. Winning culture and stuff like that,” he said.

“Just hard work to get into the team.”

Vunivali’s on-field form in the weeks prior to suffering a hamstring injury justified Thorn’s decision to stick by the former Storm star.

Marika Koroibete will be one of the first players picked in Rennie’s team that faces France in July, with Vunivalu in competition for the other wing spot with in-form Brumbies flyers Tom Wright and Andy Muirhead.


Vunivalu hopes to continue his pursuit of a starting jersey when the Reds play their final match of the season against the Force in Perth.

“I’m getting better every week. The more games I play, the better I learn,” he said.

“If I can come back and have one more game before the big dance, that would be good.”

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Royal family sustained in their grief for Philip by public support, says Charles


he royal family are being helped through this “particularly sad time” by the public outpouring of support following the death of the “much-loved” Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales has said.

Charles spoke movingly of his “dear Papa”, who he said had devoted himself to the Queen his family and the country for some 70 years.

The UK is officially in a period of national mourning for the next week, up to and including Philip’s funeral on Saturday afternoon.

A remembrance service will be held at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance.

Next Saturday’s royal service in St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle, will be like no other, with the Queen and her family wearing face masks and socially distancing as they gather to say their final farewell amid coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking from his Gloucestershire home of Highgrove, Charles said his father had “given the most remarkable, devoted service to the Queen, to my family and to the country, but also to the whole of the Commonwealth”.

He added: “As you can imagine, my family and I miss my father enormously,” and said Philip would be “deeply touched” by the people around the world sharing “our loss and our sorrow”.

Duke of Edinburgh death / PA Wire

Charles said: “My dear Papa was a very special person who I think above all else would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him, and from that point of view we are, my family, deeply grateful for all that.

“It will sustain us in this particular loss and at this particularly sad time.”

While Charles spoke for the family on Saturday, his siblings visited the Queen – with the Duke of York and Princess Royal spotted at Windsor.

Duke of Edinburgh death / PA Wire

The Earl and the Countess of Wessex spent around an hour with the Queen at the castle, with a tearful Sophie telling reporters as she left: “The Queen has been amazing.”

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George W. Bush: Prince Philip ‘brought boundless strength and support’ to the Queen

Former President George W. Bush said the late Prince Philip “brought boundless strength and support” to Queen Elizabeth II, offering condolences to the Royal Family just after learning of the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh.

“Laura and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh,” Bush said in a statement Friday morning. “Throughout his long and remarkable life, he devoted himself to worthy causes and to others.”


Bush said Prince Philip “represented the United Kingdom with dignity and brought boundless strength and support to the sovereign.”

“Laura and I are fortunate to have enjoyed the charm and wit of his company, and we know how much he will be missed,” the former president continued.

“We join those around the world offering heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the entire Royal Family,” he said.

Prince Philip passed away on Friday at Windsor Castle. He was 99.

The royal family confirmed the Duke of Edinburgh’s death Friday in a statement.

“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle,” the statement reads.

An announcement about Philip’s death was placed on the gates of Buckingham Palace on Friday.

During England’s coronavirus lockdown, he had been staying at Windsor Castle, west of London, with the queen, 94.

On Feb. 16, Philip was admitted to a London hospital after feeling unwell. On March 3, he underwent a procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital before being transferred back to King Edward VII hospital on March 5 and ultimately released home on March 16.

Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and is the longest-serving royal consort in British history. He and the queen have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. 

A former naval officer and keen polo player, Philip enjoyed robust health well into old age but had several health issues in recent years. 


At the time of his death, Philip’s full title was His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, Knight of the Garter, Knight of the Thistle, Order of Merit, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, Companion of the Order of Australia, Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, Privy Counselor. 

He was the second person ever to bear the title “Duke of Edinburgh,” the first being his great-great-uncle, Prince Alfred Ernest Albert. His son, Prince Edward, will now assume the title. 

Although he married into the British monarchy, royalty was in Philip’s blood since birth. On June 10, 1921, he was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark – the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg, as well as the great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria. 

Philip’s deep-seated royal roots placed him in the line of succession to the thrones of 16 countries. 

Fox News’ Melissa Roberto and Stephanie Nolasco contributed to this report.

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DMX not dead, still on life support despite Twitter death rumours

Social media posts paying tribute to rapper DMX began to swirl today amid confusion over whether the 50-year-old had died after suffering a heart attack and reported drug overdose last week.

But the source of the confusion was an Instagram post from a friend of the rapper, comedian Luenell, who had posted to her stories that her friend was “gone” as he remains in a critical condition in a New York hospital.

Clarifying her post, Luenell wrote, “When your spirit leaves and your organs fail you. The body becomes just a shell. One becomes wrapped in the lords arms. That’s what ‘I’ call gone. I’m sorry to all.”

His manager has confirmed he is still on life support.

A number of stars paid tribute to the rapper believing he had passed away, including hip hop artists Amine and Lil Nas X, as well as wrestler Thea Trinidad. They have since deleted their Tweets.

After the Twitter confusion, manager Steve Rifkind took to Instagram with a video message to clarify that DMX is still alive, urging fans to stop posting “RIP” messages for the sake of his family.

The hip hop star, whose real name is Earl Simmons, is in White Plains Hospital in a critical condition with “some brain activity” after being rushed to hospital late last Friday night.

He suffered a heart attack reportedly triggered by a drug overdose at around 11pm last Friday and needed to be revived “several times” by paramedics.

According to website TMZ, his family are facing the difficult decision whether to turn off his life support after tests showed no improvement in brain activity.

The publication reported he was in a coma, with the family having asked his long-time friend Mr Rifkind to fly to New York on Friday to be by his side. It comes after hundreds of fans, friends and extended family crowded outside the hospital Monday night to pray for the music icon.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, his family members have not all been allowed to enter the ICU, the NY Post reported on Monday.

TMZ first reported sources close to the rapper who claimed a drug overdose triggered the heart attack. DMX’s lawyer Murray Richman confirmed the heart attack to Pix11, but did not confirm an overdose.

“He has been taken off the life support system and is breathing on his own. But we are concerned,” Mr Richman said earlier this week. “It would be disingenuous of me to suggest I’m not a worried man at this particular point.”

Angelo Ellerbee, a rep for the star, told ET,“He is in a medical state from which I don’t think he will recover.”

Another source told TMZ that the artist is in a “vegetative state” and doctors had cautioned that he may not make it.

One more revealed he had recently battled coronavirus, and was struggling with a drug addiction relapse.

“This is a very difficult time for the family. They are standing by his bedside, holding his hand and praying. They are really in prayer mode,” the source explained.

DMX burst onto the rap scene in the ‘90s and has released a total of seven studio albums. He has three Grammy nominations to his name, two for Rap Solo Performance and one for Rap Album. His best-selling album … And Then There Was X, released in 1999, was certified five-time multi-platinum.

Not only is he prolific in the hip hop world – the 50-year-old has a whopping 15 children.

In 2019, he told GQ he even has a Bible verse about being a procreator tattooed on his neck. “Exodus 1:7. It says, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and your children will inherit the world.’”

That verse inspired the name for his youngest child with fiance Desiree Lindstrom. Their son Exodus was born in 2016, but details about his other kids are somewhat scant, with the rapper having once told podcast The Breakfast Club that he has 15 children with nine different women.

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City Support hubs to open

The City will this weekend open community support hubs – to assist residents dealing with issues associated with Covid-19 and social isolation.

“We have not beaten the challenges of Covid-19, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,’’ said Mayor Tom Tate.

“These hubs will give people a focal point to seek information, support and a friendly voice.’’

The City trialled three pop-up hubs late last year (Runaway Bay, Labrador and Kirra Hill).

“This was part of our City’s COVID-19 Community Support Package. Based on feedback from this trial, we have decided to undertake a city-wide roll-out of the program, from Saturday.’’

The plan is to again connect residents to City services and each other. Feedback will inform the City’s long-term recovery planning.

The Mayor said he expected around 3000 residents would access the hubs, seeking information about how to stay connected.

Saturday, 10 April


Pizzey Park, Miami

Saturday, 17 April


Tugun Skate Park, Tugun

Friday, 23 April


Broadwater Parklands, Southport

Tuesday, 27 April


Coomera Sports Park, Coomera

Saturday, 1 May


Damian Leeding Memorial Park, Oxenford

Monday, 3 May


Justins Park, Burleigh Heads

Wednesday, 5 May


Robina Common, Robina

Saturday, 8 May


Paradise Point Parklands, Paradise Point

Wednesday, 12 May


Cos Zantiotis Park, Labrador

Thursday, 20 May


Bim’bimba Park, Pimpama

Wednesday, 26 May


Pratten Park, Broadbeach

Wednesday, 2 June


Country Paradise Parklands Adventure Playground, Nerang

Wednesday, 9 June


Mudgeeraba Market Shopping Centre, Mudgeeraba

Monday, 28 June


Botanic Gardens, Benowa


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Support services call for repeat funds to help manage increased rates of family and domestic violence

Peak bodies for women’s refuges and other support services say special funding to address a spike in domestic violence needs to be repeated.

Specialist women’s safety services and women’s refuges will have to cut staff and support without another $150 million in special funding, peak bodies in NSW and Queensland say.

More than 15 organisations on Wednesday called on the federal, state and territory governments to repeat the cash injection that addressed the spike in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We cannot wait for the commencement of the next national plan to provide critical safety and support to those Australian women (cis and trans), children and families who need our help now,” the NSW Women’s Alliance says.

Ending Violence Against Women Queensland President Emma Iwinska said: “All service sectors across Queensland have been inundated, with women seeking support and are struggling to keep up with demand even with COVID funding.”

Federal, state and territory ministers responsible for women’s safety will meet on Wednesday to discuss the replacement of the nation’s first domestic violence national plan, which is due to expire in 2022.

The meeting will be co-chaired by federal Minister for Women Marise Payne and federal Women’s Safety Minister Anne Rushton.

A federal parliamentary committee’s bipartisan report last week said the economic cost of violence against women and their children in Australia is estimated at $26 billion each year.

“Billions of dollars in pandemic support was given to corporations who reported huge profits. Surely the safety of women and children should not be allowed to be reduced, at a fraction of that cost,” White Ribbon Australia executive director Brad Chilcott said on Wednesday.

Queensland service providers said last year’s funding injection had helped address chronic and historical underfunding of the sector.

But demand was already rising before the pandemic and the complexities associated with supporting women, children and families had only amplified since the pandemic.

NSW frontline organisation reported their busiest year on record, with no signs of the need slowing.

Demand for a court advocacy service for NSW domestic violence victims rose 35 per cent last year, or an extra 73,000 calls for help.

“We don’t have time to waste or wait. This remains a national emergency,” Domestic Violence NSW chief executive Delia Donovan said.

“Solutions have been provided for years. They are simply not committed to or invested in. Less talk, more action please.”

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EU’s Michel Vows Support To Libya’s Interim Government

European Council President Charles Michel offered support to Libya Sunday on a visit to Tripoli, as the North African nation seeks to end a decade of chaos following a NATO-backed 2011 revolt.

“We will work with the new government and support it,” Michel said after meeting with interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was selected in a UN-sponsored process to lead Libya to December 24 elections.

Libya’s parliament confirmed Dbeibah’s new transitional government last month.

“The European Union actively supports the process of national reconciliation,” Michel said.

“Economic recovery, elections, the fight against illegal immigration… are areas in which the EU can help.”

Oil-rich Libya has been torn by conflict since the toppling and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The latest unity government push is hoped to bring together rival forces, especially the two main camps in the east and west, each supported by foreign powers.

Some 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters remained in Libya in early December, according to the United Nations, and a January deadline for their withdrawal passed without any sign of them leaving.

Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah (R) meets with European Council President Charles Michel on Sunday
 AFP / –

Calls for them to depart have grown in recent weeks, and Michel urged “all mercenaries and foreign soldiers to quickly leave”.

Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush Sunday repeated Libya’s call for their withdrawal.

The country is also a major route for migrants trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, and traffickers have thrived in the lawlessness that followed Kadhafi’s overthrow.

Michel said migration was a “major theme” in the relationship between Libya and the EU.

Last month, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy visited Tripoli in a show of support for the war-torn country’s newly formed government.

France reopened its embassy in Libya last month, and next week Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is expected to visit Tripoli to reopen the country’s embassy there, in a visit coinciding with that of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Michel said an EU ambassador would return to the Libyan capital in the coming weeks.

He also said the EU would donate 50,000 Covid-19 vaccines, which would add to the delivery earlier Sunday of 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V jab, the first batch to arrive.

Libyan authorities have officially reported over 160,000 cases of the coronavirus among its seven million population, with more than 2,700 dead.

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Small businesses on the NSW – Vic border struggle to find pandemic mental health support

The mounting pressure of COVID-19 recovery is impacting the mental health of small businesses, particularly those along the New South Wales – Victoria border.

Courtney Azzi could not escape the pandemic even if she wanted to.

When the border between NSW and Victoria first closed, police set up a checkpoint right at the doorstep of her beauty and wellness spa business in Albury.

“Just looking at it all day every day it was just horrible,” she said. 

“Everyone was just on edge all the time and just drained.”

Having just given birth, Ms Azzi was forced to take her four-day-old son into work with her as she dealt with staff shortages and other financial hardship as a result of the border closure.

“It was just constant noise and constant action all the time and it’s just not enjoyable to come to work.

“The hassle of getting to work, did products arrive, there were generators going all day every day, walkie-talkies going all the time.

“We would usually sell about 30 – 40 vouchers a week … I think we sold three in five months.”

 Ms Azzi said mental health has been a big issue throughout the last 12 months.

“You’re just on edge all the time,” she said. 

“Just as we start to get a bit of momentum again something else happens.”

And she was not alone.

Albury Business Connect, in conjunction with the Personnel Group, conducted a survey in October last year that looked at the mental health of business operators along the border in response to border closures.

General Manager Carrick Gill-Vallance said the results were confronting.

“There are a few gaps that need addressing,” he said.

“We identified that there was a real problem around people’s mental health within the business community and also a real problem in the system in that they couldn’t get themselves into a psychology appointment or psychiatry or counseling.”

The survey found that 47 per cent of respondents said they felt out of control of their own mental health as a result of border closures.

Mr Gill-Vallance said the business community has come a long way since the survey was conducted last year but is concerned some business operators will experience a delayed response to stress and trauma.

“Whilst we might be running on the adrenaline and the energy that we can generate through a healthy economy, we’re still yet to really experience the side effects of that stress and trauma that a lot of business operators experienced last year,” he said.

He said there was also an enormous amount of pressure on small businesses in regional and rural communities to do well.

“The regional and rural local economies are kind of charged with reinvigorating the national economy and being a catalyst for reigniting it,” he said.

“If the businesses don’t have the capacity to manage themselves or their team and their business through challenges like mental and physical health, how are they going to achieve the goal that is set on their desks?”

Mr Gill-Vallance said support for small businesses in the next 12 months is vital.

“This is when the bandaid will come off,” he said.

“That’s what we’re expecting we’ll see this year.”

Albury Business Connect has received $25,000 in funding from the NSW government to help operators manage mental health issues.

The organisation is currently working out ways to best spend the money so that businesses along the border feel supported.

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