Europe

Afghan turmoil 'shames' the West, says German president

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  • Steinmeier laments 'human tragedy' in Afghanistan
  • Germany aims to airlift thousands
  • Merkel warns of risk that Afghans flee to Europe
  • Germany votes in federal election on Sept. 26

BERLIN, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Images of throngs trying to flee Kabul are shameful for Western nations, Germany's president said on Tuesday, as desperate people clamoured at the airport after the Taliban takeover.

"We are experiencing a human tragedy for which we share responsibility," said President Frank-Walter Steinmeier after the Western-backed government in Kabul collapsed and its foreign-trained security forces melted away. read more

Germany, which had the second largest military contingent in Afghanistan after the United States, wants to airlift thousands of German-Afghan dual nationals as well as rights activists, lawyers and people who worked with foreign forces.

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"The images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West," Steinmeier, whose post is largely ceremonial, said in a statement at the German presidential palace.

"All the more now we have to stand by those to whom we are indebted for their work and support."

A first German military plane to land in Kabul since the Taliban took power evacuated only seven people due to the airport chaos after flying soldiers in on Monday.

But a second one took off from Kabul airport early on Tuesday afternoon with more than 120 people on board, including Germans, Afghans and people from other countries, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted.

More evacuations were to follow, with Germany deploying 600 soldiers for the purpose.

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People try to get into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

ANOTHER MIGRANT CRISIS?

Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Afghans fleeing to neighbouring countries could make their way to Europe, in a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, if they do not receive sufficient humanitarian assistance. read more

She wants refugees firstly guaranteed safety in countries neighbouring Afghanistan, with the European Union to later consider if it can take people in.

"Reaching a common position within the EU is not easy. It is a weakness of the EU that we have not created a common asylum policy," she told a news conference.

Germany opened its borders six years ago to more than 1 million migrants, many of them Syrians, fleeing war and poverty: a move that won Merkel plaudits abroad but which eroded her political capital at home.

She plans to stand down after a Sept. 26 federal election.

Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chairman running to succeed her as chancellor, called for future military interventions abroad to have a clear goal, timeline and exit strategy.

"The lesson of the last 20 years is that the goal of regime change, to intervene militarily to end a dictatorship in order to build a democracy, has almost universally failed," he said in Rostock in northern Germany.

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Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Kirsti Knolle, Madeline Chambers, Andreas Rinke in Rostock Writing by Emma Thomasson, Maria Sheahan and Paul Carrel; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Cawthorne

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