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Germany

German Minister Likens Bush's "Methods" to Hitler's

The German Justice Minister has sparked outrage in the U.S. and at home with remarks likening George Bush’s political methods over Iraq to those of Adolf Hitler. It's placed a further strain on fraying German-U.S. ties.

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In the eye of the storm - German Justice Minister Herta-Däubler-Gmelin

The already soured political relationship between Germany and the United States was dealt a further blow on Thursday after highly controversial statements by German Justice Minister Herta Däublin-Gmelin were made public.

The German newspaper Schwäbische Tagblatt reported yesterday that the minister of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) in a discussion with trade unionists said that President Bush wanted to divert attention from domestic political problems through a war against Iraq.

She said Hitler had employed much the same tactics.

"That’s a popular method. Even Hitler used it," the paper quoted Däublin-Gmelin as saying.

Däubler-Gmelin herself has strongly protested the way the newspaper has portrayed her comments.

"I simply didn’t say that," she said on Thursday. The minister said that she did not compare Bush as a person to Hitler, but only their methods. "I did not equate Bush with Hitler," she said. She called the newspaper report a "distorted view" and "slanderous".

US furious over anti-American statements

Her remarks have drawn swift condemnation from the United States.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "the USA and Germany have a very long and valuable relationship and the relations between the people of the USA and Germany are very important to the Americans. But this statement of the minister is outrageous and inexplicable."

Senator Jesse Helms, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement saying he and other members of Congress were "appalled" by the anti-American tenor of the German campaign.

"If Chancellor Schröder succeeds in winning re-election through America-bashing then the U.S. Congress must seriously consider moving U.S. forces out of Germany and stationing them on the territory of other NATO allies," the statement said.

Outrage at home too

Even within Germany, which goes to the polls on Sunday, the minister’s statements have led to a storm of protest.

In a campaign that has seen Chancellor Schröder’s SPD pull ahead of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) partly due to Schröder’s anti-war rhetoric and unrelenting stance on joining the U.S. in a war against Iraq, the minister’s comments have been seized upon by the opposition.

The Christian Democrats and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) have strongly criticised the minister and called for her resignation. The CDU argued that the SPD was "deliberately trying to create the impression that the real opponent is Bush and not Saddam Hussein."

Thomas Goppel, a spokesman for the CDU told Reuters, "this shows what Schröder and his Social Democrats really think of our American allies."

General Secretary of the CDU Laurenz Meyer spoke of an "unbelievable slip-up" on the part of the minister while the CSU is demanding that Chancellor Schröder fire the minister before elections on Sunday.

Even Washington’s ambassador to Berlin, Daniel Coats is reported to have conveyed his displeasure to the German government.

German media unsparingly critical

Newspaper editorials in the country were highly critical of the minister on Friday.

"A cabinet member who makes such comparisons and does not apologise should be fired, if not by the chancellor, then by the voters," read the editorial in the country’s largest-selling newspaper, Bild.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled its editorial, "Finished".

"Herta Däubler-Gmelin cannot, will not be a member of the next German cabinet," the paper said. "She's locked in a way of thinking that cannot be reconciled with Germany's foreign policy interests."

SPD-Greens stand by minister

Chancellor Schröder has defended Däubler-Gmelin and said that he doubted the minister actually uttered what the newspaper quoted. He stressed that, "if somebody likened the American President with such crimes, the person would have no place in the government."

The legal expert for the Greens, the junior coalition partner in Schröder’s government, Volker Beck said that the accusations against the minister were an "infamous slander campaign".

Schröder risking ties with U.S.

A possible war against Iraq has dominated the German election campaign in the past few weeks, sidelining issues such as unemployment and the economy.

Chancellor Schröder’s SPD, which was trailing the opposition CDU for a long time, has suddenly recovered lost ground with the Chancellor’s hard anti-war line and inched past the CDU with just two days to go before elections.

But Chancellor Schröder has been accused of blatant electioneering by the U.S. and critics within Germany, using his unbending stance against America’s proposed military strikes against Iraq to win over pacifist voters.

Schröder is widely seen as risking his close relationship to the U.S. for the sake of holding on to power.

On Wednesday, U.S. government advisor Richard Perle told the Financial Times Deutschland "for us, it looks as if the chancellor is distancing himself from an old friend (the U.S.) in order to gain a few seats. Germany has lost all influence through the chancellor’s remarkable isolationism", he said.

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