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Thursday 18 October 2018

German government seeks to end stand-off over spy chief

Coalition partners have been warring over the fate of Hans-Georg Maassen after he appeared to downplay recent violence against migrants.

Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer and Andrea Nahles (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer and Andrea Nahles (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

By Geir Moulson, Associated Press

The leaders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition are trying to resolve a standoff over the future of the country’s domestic intelligence chief.

The centre-left Social Democrats want Hans-Georg Maassen removed for appearing to downplay recent violence against migrants, but conservative interior minister Horst Seehofer has stood by him.

Last week, coalition leaders agreed to replace Mr Maassen as head of Germany’s BfV spy agency but give him a new job as a deputy interior minister — a promotion with a hefty pay rise. The move infuriated many members of the centre-left Social Democrats.

Mr Seehofer leads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the government’s third coalition partner.

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Hans-Georg Maassen has been supported by Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP)

On Friday, Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles asked Mrs Merkel and Mr Seehofer to renegotiate the deal. Mrs Merkel said she wanted a solution over the weekend, though she has not said what her own opinion is of Mr Maassen.

Mrs Merkel’s coalition took office in March after the Social Democrats decided reluctantly to join up.

It has already been through one crisis that threatened its survival, when Mrs Merkel and Mr Seehofer — a conservative ally, but a long-time critic of her initially welcoming approach to refugees in 2015 — faced off in June over whether to turn back some migrants at the German-Austrian border.

Responding to violent right-wing protests following the killing of a German man, allegedly by migrants, in the eastern city of Chemnitz, Mr Maassen said his agency had no reliable evidence that foreigners were being “hunted” down in the streets — a term Mrs Merkel had used.

A video posted by a left-wing group showed protesters chasing down and attacking a foreigner but Mr Maassen questioned its authenticity.

Mr Seehofer, Mr Maassen’s boss, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that coalition leaders will have to spend a lot of time in phone calls over the weekend but will only meet when it is clear how a solution could work.

Mr Seehofer said Mr Maassen is a “highly competent” employee who has not violated any rules and that he will not dismiss him outright. He accused the Social Democrats of running a “campaign” against Mr Maassen.

The issue is clouding the government’s future at a time when the three parties face major challenges in upcoming state elections, in Mr Seehofer’s home state of Bavaria on October 14 and in neighbouring Hesse on October 28. The infighting appears to be weighing down their support.

Press Association

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