The Latest: Syrian refugee plays the piano at Greek border

AP News
Posted: Mar 12, 2016 1:15 PM
The Latest: Syrian refugee plays the piano at Greek border

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on the migrant crisis in Europe (all times local):

7:10 p.m.

A young Syrian woman stranded along with 12,000 other refugees at a camp on Greece's northern border has given a piano performance in the rain.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has visited migrant camps in Greece to publicize the refugees' plight, arranged for a white baby grand to be brought to the Idomeni camp. Because of the constant rain, the pianist, Nour Alkhzam, had to play under a plastic sheet.

She says "it's been three years since I touched the piano (due to the Syrian war). I have been feeling very nervous, but I'm feeling very good today to be able to put my hands on the piano again."

Ai says "it's not a performance, it's not a concert — it's life itself."

He said Alkhzam was trying to go to Germany to continue her studies and be with her husband, who has been there for a year and a half.


5:55 p.m.

Right-wing demonstrators have marched through central Berlin chanting "Merkel must go!" and "We are the people!"

The demonstrators, who appeared to be about 2,000 strong and carried German and other flags, were accompanied Saturday by a heavy police escort. Officers were keen to keep them away from counter-protesters.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum-seekers last year and Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that "we will manage" the challenge of integrating them.

Still, a vocal minority has staged protests against her migrant policy and there has been a sharp rise in the number of attacks on refugee housing in Germany.


4:30 p.m.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says a meeting of left-wing leaders in Paris on Saturday has made progress on a "common front" to tackle the migrant crisis.

He also says the rise of extreme right forces is the "real threat" to Europe and is urging progressive migration policies to counter it. He warns of "forces that build fences and create a very bad atmosphere."

A rising nationalist party is expected to perform strongly in three German state elections on Sunday, gaining support from those uneasy about Chancellor Angela Merkel's migrant policy.

On Saturday, extreme right-wing youths torched tires and blocked migrants from roads in France's northern port of Calais, leading to several arrests.


3:25 p.m.

Germany's vice chancellor is making clear that likely gains for a nationalist party in state elections on Sunday won't change his government's stance on migrants.

The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party is expected to win seats in three more German state legislatures in the election amid unease over Chancellor Angela Merkel's welcome last year for large numbers of refugees and her insistence on pursuing a Europe-wide solution to the migrant crisis.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said after meeting fellow center-left European leaders in Paris on Saturday that a large majority of voters will choose "democratic parties" and that "we shouldn't start to panic."

He added: "There is a clear position that we stand by: humanity and solidarity. We will not change our position now because of 10 percent right-wing radicals."

He called for a large turnout in the vote.


3:00 p.m.

French President Francois Hollande is urging more "clarification and transparency" in European Union discussions with Turkey about a complex deal to ease the migrant crisis.

European leaders are holding a summit next week to finalize a plan to send migrants back to Turkey, and in exchange European countries would take in Syrian war refugees currently in Turkey. Some have criticized Germany, which has taken in the majority of the more than 1 million migrants who have entered Europe over the past year, for dominating the discussions.

Hollande, speaking in Paris on Saturday after talks with several left-wing leaders from around Europe, also said "there must be protection of the external borders" to avoid the re-establishment of new internal borders in Europe's free-travel zone.


2:10 p.m.

Greek media report that a former German labor minister intends to spend the night in a tent in solidarity with the thousands of migrants stranded on Greece's border with Macedonia.

Norbert Bluem, an 80-year-old a Christian Democrat who was labor minister from 1982 to 1998, is in the Idomeni refugee camp where 12,000 people, mostly Iraqis and Syrians, are stranded with little hope of being allowed into Macedonia to continue their trek to central or northern Europe.

One refugee, who gave his name as Nazim Serhan, went on a hunger strike Friday, demanding to be reunited with his wife who is in Germany. He says she is gravely ill with cancer. The couple's 3 children are with him in the camp.


12:30 p.m.

Austria's interior minister says her country may reinforce controls at more border crossings if migrants seek new routes to central Europe.

Austria introduced a daily refugee cap last month, setting off a chain of border closures that shut down the Balkan route used by hundreds of thousands of migrants. Austria already had built a fence along a small part of its border with Slovenia near the Spielfeld crossing to regulate migrants' entry.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag it would be wrong to assume "mass migration" is already over so her country is preparing to secure its border at other points.

She said that "besides Spielfeld, we are focusing on border controls at 12 other locations, optionally with fences, containers and checks by police and soldiers."


12:20 p.m.

Swedish police say two blazes overnight have damaged facilities planned to be shelters for unaccompanied minors, but caused no injuries.

Police were alerted early Saturday about several small fires in a complex being renovated south of Goteborg, Sweden's second largest city. Shortly after, a fire damaged a building further south near Klippan, north of Helsingborg. The fires were quickly extinguished. No suspects have been arrested.

These were the latest suspected arson attacks on asylum centers or buildings being renovated for refugees. In recent months, Sweden has seen more than dozens such attacks as an influx of refugees has surged. The country has accepted the highest number of migrants per capita in Europe.


11:10 a.m.

Several European leaders are meeting in Paris to discuss ways of strengthening Europe's stance on migration and boosting spotty growth.

France's Socialist President Francois Hollande convened other left-wing political leaders in part to discuss issues that have been pushed lower on the European agenda because of the migration crisis — such as economic reforms and rising far right sentiment. Hollande's office says they're also expected to talk about a possible British departure from the EU.

EU foreign policy chief Mogherini, EU finance commissioner Pierre Moscovici and European Parliament President Martin Schultz were expected to join the meeting.

The meeting comes as Europe is tightening up against asylum-seekers and other migrants and facing a complex summit in Brussels next week on a deal to send thousands back to Turkey.


9:00 a.m.

Police detained 14 young extreme right activists after they torched tires and tried to block migrants in the French port of Calais from entering the center of town.

The group Generation Identitaire said in a statement that its activists "took control" of two bridges Saturday and wants EU and national governments to reinstate borders.

The regional police department said 14 were detained and a truck seized to show the government's "determination not to let extremist movements manipulate the migrant crisis."

Calais, long a magnet for migrants trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain, became a flashpoint in Europe's unprecedented wave of migrant arrivals. Thousands of people escaping war and poverty in the Mideast and Africa gathered in a filthy Calais camp that authorities are gradually dismantling.