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Britain’s May Considers Extending Post-Brexit Transition

British Prime Minister Theresa May says she is considering a European Union proposal that would keep Britain bound to the bloc’s rules for more than two years after Brexit.

At present the two sides say Britain will remain subject to the bloc’s rules from Brexit day, March 29, until December 2020, to give time for new trade relations to be set up.


With divorce talks stuck, the bloc has suggested extending that period, to give more time to strike a trade deal that ensures a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.


May said Thursday that the U.K. is considering extending the transition period by “a matter of months.” 


The idea has angered pro-Brexit U.K. politicians, who see it as an attempt to bind Britain to the bloc indefinitely.

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Russian Officials: Crimea School Shooting Was ‘Mass Murder,’ Not Terrorism

Russian officials say Wednesday’s attack on a school in Crimea in which at least 19 students were killed was not a terrorist attack, but a case of mass murder. They say video footage captured by a closed-caption camera shows a former student armed with a rifle enter the technical college in the Black Sea city of Kerch. Zlatica Hoke reports the suspect in the school shooting also was killed.

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Legendary Istanbul Photographer Ara Guler Dies at 90

Legendary Turkish photographer Ara Guler, famed for iconic images of Istanbul that captured almost three-quarters of a century of the city’s history, has died at age 90, state media said.

Guler passed away after being rushed to hospital in Istanbul for emergency treatment for heart failure, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

He won fame with extraordinary images of Istanbul in black and white that admirers believe captured the soul of the city more than any other photographer.

His work included images of the city’s best known mosques and landmarks, pictures of workers going about their daily lives to rare pictures of Istanbul covered in a blanket of snow.

Preserving a city

In a city that is now changing at a frenetic pace, Guler’s work preserved facets of Istanbul that have now become irrevocably lost.

Celebrated Turkish writer and Nobel Literature Prize winner Orhan Pamuk famously used Guler’s images in his book “Istanbul: Memories and the City” in which the smoky and misty photos provided the perfect accompaniment to the text.

For many, the work of Guler was infused with the spirit of huzun, the Turkish word for melancholy, which is seen as a particular Istanbul characteristic.

But in a wide-ranging career, he also photographed famous personalities including Salvador Dali, Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill. Another famous subject was the artist Picasso.

​Born in Istanbul

Born to an Armenian family in Istanbul, Guler attended an Armenian school there and began working as a photographer on Turkish newspaper Yeni.

He got his first big international chance as a photographer in 1958 when US magazine Time-Life opened a Turkey office.

He then met the likes of Marc Riboud and Henri Cartier-Bresson who signed him up to join the celebrated photo agency Magnum.

Fans liked to call Guler the “Eye of Istanbul,” but he insisted he was more.

“People call me an Istanbul photographer. But I am a citizen of the world. I am a world photographer,” he said once.

Worked around the world

His work took him around the world to Africa and Afghanistan as well as his native Turkey and resulted in numerous books, which remain a favorite of Istanbul souvenir-hunters to this day.

Guler was a well-known face in Istanbul and even in his last months could regularly be seen at the outside tables of the cafe he owned, Ara Café, in central Istanbul, which is adorned with his pictures.

In August, a photography museum in Istanbul opened in his name.

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Police: So Far No Indication of IS Link to Cologne Attack

Cologne police are investigating whether extremism was the motivation behind a bloody hostage-taking at the city’s main train station, but so far have found no ties to the Islamic State group, authorities said Tuesday.

Criminal police investigation leader Klaus-Stephan Becker told reporters the man has been identified as a 55-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Germany in early 2015 and was granted asylum.

Witnesses to the Monday attack in the crowded train station reported to police that the suspect, whose name wasn’t released, said he was acting in the name of the Islamic State group. But Becker said they found nothing in the man’s Cologne apartment to support that.

Police found Arabic phrases like “Muhammad is my prophet” written in the apartment but no concrete evidence of Islamic extremism, Becker said.

The suspect was shot several times after police stormed the pharmacy in the train station where he held a woman hostage for two hours. He is no longer in a life-threatening condition but remains in a coma.

The attack started when the man entered a McDonald’s restaurant in the train station and lit fire to a gasoline bomb, injuring two people. One, a 14-year-old girl, was being operated on Tuesday for severe burns and the other was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.

He then moved to the nearby pharmacy and took a worker hostage, armed with what turned out to be an airgun. 

The man threatened the woman when police stormed the pharmacy. In the pharmacy’s back room police found gas canisters like the type used for camp stoves. 

It would have been difficult for the man to have ignited the gas canisters with the material he had but had he managed to, they could have caused a large explosion, Becker said.

“What his plan was I can only speculate, but what we have seen makes clear that he wanted to harm many people,” Becker said. 

Authorities believe the suspect may have had psychological problems, but are still investigating, Becker said. He had been investigated by police 13 times in the past for what Becker characterized as small to medium-level crimes, including possession of a small amount of marijuana, theft, disturbing the peace and fraud. 

The suspect’s son and brother also live in Germany. Police have questioned the former and are planning on talking with the latter. His wife still lives in Syria, Becker said. 

The suspect is being investigated on charges of attempted murder, bodily harm and hostage taking. The federal prosecutor’s office, which handles terrorism and national security cases in Germany, will likely take over the investigation because it appears to have “particular significance,” representative Markus Schmitt said.

The hostage was injured during the incident but was being released from a hospital Tuesday. 

Police are trying to determine whether the suspect came to the train station alone and are calling for any witnesses with video of him to upload it for analysis.

More than a million migrants, mostly Muslims from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have entered Germany since 2015, leading to a backlash in parts of the country and the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party. 

The incident again brings a focus on Cologne, which has seen several criminal incidents relating to migrants in recent years. 

On New Year’s Eve in 2015, festivities in Cologne were overshadowed when hundreds of women complained of being groped and robbed, mostly by groups of migrants. 

Since early 2016, migration has diminished significantly.

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UN Pressures Saudi Arabia to Come Clean About Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is urging Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reveal everything they know about the disappearance and possible extrajudicial killing of a prominent Saudi journalist. Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering, but not exiting, the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.

While Khashoggi disappeared October 2, it was not until Monday, October 15 that Turkish forensic investigators were allowed to search the Saudi consulate.

Bachelet has welcomed this move, but says more is needed. She is urging both Saudi Arabia and Turkey to conduct a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

The U.N. Rights chief says she wants the diplomatic immunity that was bestowed by the 1963 Vienna Convention to be waived for all Saudi officials. The commissioner’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, tells VOA that Bachelet wants to make sure a full unimpeded forensic investigation can go forward.

“We hope the lifting of immunity is absolute, so they can investigate everything they wish to and everything they feel they need to, both in the consulate, in the consul general’s premises, in the vehicles that were shown on the CCTV footage, and so on,” said Colville. “So, basically the investigators need to be able to investigate everything they wish to.”

Colville says there seems to be clear evidence that Khashoggi entered the consulate and has not been seen since. Therefore, he says the onus for revealing what happened to the journalist is on the Saudi authorities.

International pressure is mounting on Saudi Arabia to come up with answers.  More firms are pulling out of a big investment conference scheduled to take place next week in Saudi Arabia. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Riyadh Tuesday to discuss the crisis with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

U.S. media reports say Saudi Arabia was edging toward acknowledging that Khashoggi was killed after he entered the consulate, blaming his death on an interrogation gone wrong. Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince in columns written for The Washington Post, had been living in the United States in self-imposed exile. Saudi Arabia has previously denied Khashoggi was killed, saying he left the consulate on his own.



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Brexit ‘Moment of Truth’ Approaching, EU Officials Say

From Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough, the border separating the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland snakes for about 500 kilometers through peaceful countryside.

Most of the time nowadays, travelers only know they have crossed from one side to the other of the partitioned island because of the difference in the color of the mailboxes or because road signs in the south use kilometers, while in the north they’re indicated in miles.

Border posts and checkpoints are a thing of a troubled past.


But that might change, if Britain leaves the European Union without an exit deal. The quiet, bucolic border separating the island of Ireland could well be both the victim and the cause of a sharp rupture between London and Brussels that would impact jobs and disrupt businesses on both sides of the English Channel.

European Council President Donald Tusk warned Monday that Britain is barreling toward a “no-deal Brexit,” which, aside from hardline Brexiters in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservative party, no one on either side of the English Channel wants. A no-deal Brexit is “more likely than ever before,” Tusk said just hours ahead of a summit of European leaders in Brussels that EU officials have billed as the “moment of truth” for Brexit.


Britain’s May will face EU leaders Wednesday to make what some believe could well amount to a final bid to persuade them to agree on more concessions and to rescue Brexit talks that have ground to a halt over how to avoid “hardening” the border in Ireland, which would involve the imposition of customs and immigration checks.

Britain agreed to remove checkpoints along the border in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – a deal struck among London, Dublin and most political parties and armed factions in Northern Ireland that brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of deadly violence known locally as “the Troubles.”

Hopes of a breakthrough had been raised last week. British and EU officials thought they were close to an agreement about the Irish border, but on Sunday that all fell apart when it became clear Prime Minister May didn’t have the full support of her Cabinet and that several key ministers were on the brink of resigning. Britain’s Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, made an unscheduled trip to Brussels to say the deal, known as the backstop, an EU backup plan to avoid a hard Irish border, was off.

The EU wants Northern Ireland, regardless of whether there’s a subsequent trade deal with Britain, to remain inside the bloc’s customs union so as to avoid the necessity of border controls between the British province and the Irish Republic. Brussels is backed in this demand by the Irish government, which wants Northern Ireland to remain closely tied to European regulations on goods and services, including customs arrangements, after Britain leaves the bloc.


May says treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of Britain would mean, in effect, that there would have to be “a border in the Irish Sea,” separating two parts of Britain.  

The EU proposal on how to handle the Northern Ireland border “threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom,” she told British lawmakers Monday in bruising exchanges in the House of Commons. But Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, says a backstop is essential.

“No one wants to trigger the backstop, but it needs to be there as an insurance mechanism to calm nerves that we are not going to see physically a border infrastructure emerging on the island of Ireland,” he said.

Britain has counter-proposed a different “backstop” instead, which would keep all of Britain in a customs union with the bloc temporarily, while a trade deal is negotiated with the EU. May told British lawmakers she believes an overall deal with the EU down the road is still achievable so that keeping Britain in a customs union to avoid a “hard” Irish border is merely a defensive position that would never actually be used.  

Complicating the position for the British prime minister – and the EU – is that she heads a minority government and has to contend with a large, rebellious Conservative faction, led by former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and aristocratic lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, which wants Britain to break sharply from the EU. At least three members of May’s Cabinet are aligned with the rebels.

The rebel faction, which possibly numbers more than 60 Conservative lawmakers, opposes Britain remaining for any length of time in a customs union with the EU as that would limit Britain’s power to strike trade deals around the world. The faction also fears a temporary customs union membership would turn into a permanent arrangement.

Even if a border deal with the EU is struck, the chances are high that May won’t get parliamentary backing for it, because of opposition from the Conservative rebels and from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party, or DUP, whose 10 lawmakers in the House of Commons are needed by May to get legislation passed.

The DUP, a right-wing party opposed to reunification with the Republic of Ireland, says it won’t accept any deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of Britain. The party says it’s all a trick to thwart Britain exiting the EU. The party’s leader in the House of Commons, Nigel Dodds, says Britain should leave the EU “together with no part hived off either in the single market or customs union differences.”

The overall head of the DUP, Arlene Foster, says she’s ready to scupper any deal she dislikes by collapsing May’s government. She believes Britain is now likely to leave without a deal and had a “difficult and hostile” exchange with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, last week.

“I don’t see how she can get the votes to get this through. I think we have reached a breaking point,” said Hugh Bennett, news editor at Guido Fawkes, a Conservative blog site.

Meanwhile, positions are hardening among British lawmakers who either don’t want Britain to leave the EU or want to maintain close ties with Europe. More of them are supporting a call for another referendum on EU membership, on the grounds that parliament, as well as the ruling party, are hopelessly divided.


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Germany Deports Accomplice of 9/11 Attacks to Morocco

Germany has deported an accomplice of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States to his home country of Morocco.


Mounir al-Motassadeq had spent almost 15 years in prison in Germany before he was deported Monday to Morocco.


German media published photographs of Motassadeq wearing a blindfold and being led by two armed policemen to a helicopter. German officials confirmed he was flown out by plane from Frankfurt airport on Monday evening.


Motassadeq was convicted of helping Mohamed Atta, the alleged pilot of one of the hijacked 9/11 planes, and other suicide pilots to help plot the attacks on New York and Washington. The suicide pilots were part of an al-Qaida cell based in Hamburg, Germany, where Motassadeq also lived.


Motassadeq was found guilty in 2003 of being a member of a terrorist organization and an accessory to the murder of the passengers aboard the four airliners used in the September 11 attacks. His five years of trials in Germany involved multiple appeals, overturned convictions, and reinstated verdicts. In the end, he received the maximum sentence the German court could hand down for the crimes — 15 years in prison.


Motassadeq denied being involved in the 9/11 plot, but admitted to being friends with those who did. He said his actions to send money to the suicide pilots were merely favors for his friends.


He was the first person convicted anywhere in the world in connection with the September 11 attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people died.


Motassadeq was released shortly before completing his 15-year sentence on the condition that he agreed to be deported to Morocco. Germany says it will re-arrest him if he ever returns.

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European Populism Takes a Left Turn in Spain

One of the first steps taken by Spain’s prime minister after assuming office in June was to order the exhumation of the remains of right-wing military dictator Francisco Franco from a mausoleum in the capital’s outskirts, where they have rested since he died in power a half century ago.


“Democracy cannot dignify a dictator,” Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), said in justifying the order.

The decision was hailed by leftists, but critics warned that polarizing struggles between traditional conservatives and a new breed of left-wing populists could end five decades of bipartisan continuity since Franco’s death.


Sanchez maintains a razor-thin edge in parliament’s lower chamber through an alliance with hard-left groups and Catalan nationalists. His priorities, he said in an address to last month’s U.N. General Assembly, include raising social spending, fighting climate change and promoting women’s rights.

Elsewhere in Europe, populism has come to be identified with far-right movements whose rhetoric is often associated with the xenophobia and racism that characterized the fascist movements that brought Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to power.


But today’s Spanish populism, says influential opinion columnist Mario Saavedra, is “leftist” and appears rooted in memories of a 1930’s republic that was overthrown by Franco in a bloody civil war.

The republic established after King Alfonso XIII stepped aside in 1931 captured the imagination of European and American intellectuals such as Ernest Hemingway, who based his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls on his experiences there. It brought together the world’s most fashionable utopian ideologies at the time, including communism and anarchist syndicalism. Democratic socialists occupied its presidency.


Historian Javier Arjona draws parallels between the coalition of leftist parties which maneuvered Sanchez into the prime minister’s seat and the radical “Popular Front” that came to power through a disputed election victory in 1936. Government supporters scoff at the comparison and Sanchez accuses conservatives of appealing to the “extreme right” in a bid to regain power.


Regardless, a leftist brand of republicanism seems to be back in vogue. Its purple colors appear at social protests and adorn the jerseys of some soccer clubs. Catalan nationalists and the far-left United We Can party who prop up Sanchez’s government call for restoring a republic and holding a referendum on the future of the monarchy. Burning pictures of King Felipe has become a ritual at separatist rallies in Catalonia.


United We Can, or Unidos Podemos (UP) in Spanish, is led by Pablo Iglesias, a political science professor who merged a new generation of leftists with remnants of the old communist party. His movement harnessed a wave of social discontent that exploded into mass protests during the recent global recession, in which Spain’s unemployment rate topped 25 percent nationally and reached 50 percent among young people.


Disenchanted working-class supporters of Sanchez’s mainstream PSOE turned to UP, which promised to confront corruption on all sides.  


While Spain has largely recovered from the darkest days of the crash, UP continues to win followers by denouncing abusive business practices such as the eviction of low-income tenants from housing estates when they are bought up by foreign “vulture funds.” It also champions an increase in old-age pensions for Spain’s growing senior population.


In unveiling its budget October 11, the Sanchez government announced an agreement between the PSOE and UP on a package that includes a massive increase in public spending, the expansion of public services, new regulations, and a substantial rise in the minimum wage.


Sanchez has also called for changing Spain’s constitution. His justice minister, Dolores Delgado, an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, has said that it needs to be rewritten to make it more gender neutral.


His vice president, Carmen Calvo, has called for curbing press freedoms to counter what she calls a “high volume of half-truths and lies” by conservative media. She has threatened to take legal action against the conservative, pro-monarchy, pro-Catholic newspaper ABC over its published allegations that Sanchez plagiarized his doctoral thesis.  


Some business leaders say they are worried. John de Zulueta, chairman of the Circulo de Empresarios, the Spanish business association, said tax hikes proposed by Sanchez to cover a rise in social spending could depress the markets at a time when the economy is not fully out of recession. The IMF has also criticized Sanchez’s plans to finance deficit spending.


Government spokespersons defend their actions, saying their plan is adjusted to EU budget requirements.


Conservatives are also trying to block Sanchez from satisfying Catalan separatists by granting pardons to Catalan Vice president Oriol Junqueras and other officials who are in prison awaiting trial for plotting an independence bid.

“We have to find a political rather than a judicial solution to the Catalan crisis,” Sanchez said after recent violent protests in Barcelona.


Political analyst Ramon Peralta, a professor at Complutense University of Madrid, said Sanchez “tries to shield his government by wrapping it in popular causes.”


In his U.N. speech, Sanchez highlighted his feminist agenda, boasting that 60 percent of his cabinet are women and pledging “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment.


Feminist leaders, who see Spain’s traditional culture of machismo as toxic to women’s rights, are strongly backing Sanchez despite a scandal in which the justice minister was caught on tape speaking insultingly about the interior minister’s homosexuality.


Sanchez’ moves have been well received by liberals elsewhere in Europe. In a recent editorial, the British newspaper The Guardian said, “exhuming Franco is a necessary step in the final stages of Spain’s historic journey away from authoritarian violence towards enduring democracy.”


But others, including some of the prime minister’s allies, suggest that steps like the exhumation of Franco will simply fan the flames of the extreme right. Since Sanchez announced plans to open Franco’s crypt, visits to the mountaintop mausoleum have risen by 77 percent.


The visitors have included blue-shirted members of the Falange party, who raise their arms in the fascist salute while singing their battle hymn, “Cara al Sol,” or “Face to the Sun.” A new extreme-right party called VOX has threatened to stage mass protests to block the exhumation.


Spanish public opinion is about evenly split. According to a survey in July by polling institute Sigma Dos, about 41 percent support the decision while 39 percent are opposed. 

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Iceland Seeks Financial Crash Closure with Last Prosecution

The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy threw the United States into an epoch-defining financial storm. Imagine 300 of them going bust at once.

That, in relative terms, is what Iceland endured a decade ago during its banking crisis, which on this rugged island steeped in myths of gods and giants is now known as “hrunid” – the collapse.

The last in a series of prosecutions of those deemed responsible started this month and the hope is that it will give this country of 330,000 people some closure after years of reckoning and reconstruction. Icelanders have become more cynical about political and business leaders, to the point of drafting a new constitution. The top financial entrepreneurs of a generation have been thrown behind bars and the economy has had to be reinvented more profoundly than most countries affected by the crisis.

“Icelanders experienced the crash as a deep betrayal, not just as a serious economic loss,” says Jon Olafsson, a professor who advises the prime minister on ways to improve trust in the government. “Politicians, businessmen and the media told the public, over and over, that everything was fine and people believed them.”

Everything was not fine. Over the span of one week, 90 percent of the financial sector defaulted.

The collapse of Iceland’s three major commercial banks – which had grown 20-fold over the previous seven years through debt-fueled acquisitions abroad – amounted to the third-largest bankruptcy in modern financial history, according to the Icelandic financial regulator. For the United States, an economy 1,100 times bigger, it would be like if 300 Lehman Brothers defaulted simultaneously, it notes.

An economic depression followed that saw people line up for food aid, an unprecedented sight in this country with a progressive welfare state. Families stockpiled goods from supermarket shelves and thousands emigrated.

Johanna Thorvaldsdottir, a goat farmer, had a mortgage in a foreign currency – a common practice then because of the strength of the local currency and lower interest rates abroad – when the Icelandic krona lost nearly half of its value overnight. The cost of her debt soared.

“I worked every evening, sometimes until midnight,” she says. Had it not been for a crowdfunding campaign, raising $90,000 from donors worldwide, the family estate would have been seized by bank creditors.

“We were lucky,” she says. “Many people were not.”

As big as the shock of the financial crisis was, so was the country’s determination to put things right. It emerged from recession in 2011 as it refocused the economy on tourism and technology, and it has been more aggressive than most countries in going after the culprits of the crisis.

Altogether, 29 men and two women have been sentenced to a combined 99 years of prison, for crimes ranging from insider trading to market manipulation. Six cases are still in the appeals process. By comparison, no top Wall Street executives have been prosecuted in the U.S.

Last week, Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, the former CEO of Kaupthing Bank, stood trial in the last criminal prosecution related to the financial crisis.

The 48-year old has been sentenced in four prior cases, to a total of seven years in prison. He now stands accused of rigging share prices in his bank two months before it crashed. He denies wrongdoing. While a guilty sentence is unlikely to send him back to prison, as he has already served the maximum time for such crimes, it would help draw a line under the cases, which have dragged on for years.

Sigurdsson began his career at a fish factory in a small town before entering finance, and was during the booming years hailed as a self-made genius.

In some ways, his story reflects that of the country, which in the 1990s embraced the flashy world of finance to attain the wealth that the traditional industries could not provide. The media frequently referred to aggressive entrepreneurs like Sigurdsson as modern-day Vikings raiding foreign shores for acquisitions. In the end, it led to disaster.

Iceland is bent on “learning every lesson from the crisis,” says Iosif Kovras, director of Accountability after Economic Crisis, a research project based in City University-London.

He contrasted Iceland’s approach with that of Ireland, where the crisis was also traumatic but took longer to unfold. The country received a bailout from fellow European nations that took years of reforms to complete.

“It did not prompt the same political urgency,” says Kovras. “Iceland’s apocalyptic crash cleared the way for gathering evidence and data.”

The University of Iceland this month marked the 10-year anniversary of the crash with a symposium hosting over 100 speakers. They ruminated on topics like the crisis’ impact on cardiovascular health, pop-song lyrics, patriarchy and popular protests.

“There is no formula for restoring a peaceful, democratic society,” former President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said in an evening-long public broadcast reflecting on the events. “Amid the crisis, when the situation was revolution-like, I feared not for the economy but our recovery as a nation.”

Reforms of the financial sector have focused on making it less risky. Already there are those saying the rules should be relaxed to allow for faster growth, as the U.S. did this year. President Donald Trump’s administration eased a 2010 law that had sought to limit risk in the financial sector and protect taxpayers from bailing out banks. Critics including Trump saw it as red tape holding the economy back.

Others suggest that loosening the rules would merely increase the likelihood of a new crisis and that Icelanders already seem to be forgetting the lessons of the crash.

Thorhallur Thorhallsson, who works as a tour guide in the capital, notes the proliferation of building cranes rising from the skyline.

“We are so used to cranes occupying the sky that it was decided to make them our national bird,” he tells a half dozen tourists gathered by the statue of the Norse explorer who is said to have settled the island 1,100 years ago.

“In fact, today, Reykjavik has more building cranes than before the 2008 crash.”

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Bavarian Voters Punish Merkel Allies in State Election

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative allies lost their absolute majority in Bavaria’s state parliament by a wide margin Sunday, according to projections from a regional election that could cause more turbulence in the national government.

The Christian Social Union was on course to take just over 35 percent of the vote, down from 47.7 percent five years ago, projections for ARD and ZDF public television based on exit polls and a partial vote count indicated.

That would be the socially conservative party’s worst performance in Bavaria, which it has traditionally dominated, since 1950. Squabbling in Merkel’s national government and a power struggle at home have weighed in recent months on the CSU, which has taken a hard line on migration tradition.

There were gains for parties to its left and right. The Greens were expected to win up to 19 percent to secure second place, more than double their support in 2013. And the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, was set to enter the state legislature with around 11 percent of the vote.

The center-left Social Democrats, Merkel’s other coalition partner in Berlin, were on course for a disastrous result of 10 percent or less, half of what the party received in 2013 and its worst in the state since World War II.

The CSU has held an absolute majority in the Bavarian parliament for all but five of the past 56 years and governed the prosperous southeastern state for 61 years.

Needing coalition partners to govern would in itself be a major setback for the party, which only exists in Bavaria and has long leveraged its strength there to punch above its weight in national politics.

“Of course this isn’t an easy day for the CSU,” the state’s governor, Markus Soeder, told supporters in Munich, adding that the party accepted the “painful” result “with humility.”

Soeder pointed to goings-on in Berlin and said “it’s not so easy to uncouple yourself from the national trend completely.”

But he stressed that the CSU still emerged Sunday as the state’s strongest party and a mandate to form the next Bavarian government.

He said his preference was for a center-right coalition — which would see the CSU partner with the Free Voters, a local center-right party that was seen winning 11.5 percent, and possibly also the Free Democrats, who may or may not secure the 5 percent needed to win state parliament seats.

The Greens, traditionally bitter opponents, with a more liberal approach to migration and an emphasis on environmental issues, are another possibility.

Bavaria is home to some 13 million of Germany’s 82 million people.

In Berlin, the CSU is one of three parties in Merkel’s federal coalition government along with its conservative sister, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and the Social Democrats.

That government has been notable largely for internal squabbling since it took office in March. The CSU leader, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, has often played a starring role.

Back in Bavaria, a long-running CSU power struggle saw the 69-year-old Seehofer give up his job as state governor earlier this year to Soeder, a younger and sometimes bitter rival.

Seehofer has sparred with Merkel about migration on and off since 2015, when he assailed her decision to leave Germany’s borders open as refugees and others crossed the Balkans.

They argued in June over whether to turn back small numbers of asylum-seekers at the German-Austrian border, briefly threatening to bring down the national government.

Seehofer also starred in a coalition crisis last month over Germany’s domestic intelligence chief, who was accused of downplaying recent far-right violence against migrants.

Seehofer, who has faced widespread speculation lately that a poor Bavarian result would cost him his job, said he was “saddened” by Sunday’s outcome, but didn’t address his own future.

It remains to be seen whether and how the Bavarian result will affect the national government’s stability or Merkel’s long-term future.

Any aftershocks may be delayed, because another state election is coming Oct. 28 in neighboring Hesse, where conservative Volker Bouffier is defending the 19-year hold of Merkel’s CDU on the governor’s office. Bouffier has criticized the CSU for diminishing people’s trust in Germany’s conservatives.

“Clearly the choices of subjects and the debates of recent weeks led to our friends in the CSU being unable to put their successful regional record at the center of their election campaign,” said the CDU’s general secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.