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German minister sparks row over anti-terror measures

Reuters | April 19, 2007 
Tom Armitage

Terror suspects should not be presumed innocent until proven guilty, Germany's interior minister said on Thursday, sparking controversy over the extent of new anti-terrorism laws in the liberal country.

The comments by Wolfgang Schaeuble have stirred a debate in Germany where the post-war constitution is seen as enshrining citizens' liberty and protecting them from the state persecution which occurred under the Nazi and Communist regimes.

Recent changes to Germany's security policies and anti-terrorism laws have already met with fierce resistance despite a near miss last year when two suitcase bombs planted by terrorists on German trains failed to detonate.

"Would it be right to say that I would prefer to allow ten attacks to take place rather than to prevent one person from trying who perhaps does not intend to launch an attack? In my opinion that would be wrong," Schaeuble said in an interview with Stern magazine, published on Thursday.


In suspected terror cases, the presumption of innocence should be lifted, he said, leading some to conclude that he was planning a further tightening of Germany's anti-terrorism laws.

Gerhart Baum, a former interior minister and member of the opposition Free Democrats (FDP), said Schaeuble's suggestions were "legally outrageous" and called on Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene.

"This is about changing the fundamental coordinates of our legal system," Baum told the Berliner Zeitung daily.

In a sign of tensions within the coalition government, Schaeuble's suggestion was rejected by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, a member of the Social Democrat (SPD) party that rules in partnership with Merkel's conservatives.

The SPD has also rejected Schaeuble's proposals to allow the German army to be deployed within the country's borders while Zypries and Schaeuble have clashed over plans to include fingerprints in passports. The government plans to discuss the issues at a meeting in the next few weeks.

New anti-terrorism measures and suggestions for pre-emptive police powers have met resistance in Germany, despite being relatively mild in comparison to the changes introduced in neighboring France by presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy.

A Hamburg-based al Qaeda cell has been blamed for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, prompting Germany to introduce a new law on combating international terrorism.

This gave security services access, under strict conditions, to suspects' banking, telephone and other details. It was extended this year to grant easier access to airline passenger lists and bank account data.

The government on Wednesday announced plans to keep all telephone call logs for six months to aid police work.

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