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German Press Review: Terror Storm Blows Over Hamburg

A German military hospital in Hamburg has been put on high alert after warnings were issued that it would be targeted by an Islamic terrorist group. It was the main topic for comment in the Friday newspapers.

After the American Central Intelligence Agency issued warnings that Islamic terrorist groups would target either U.S. military installations in Frankfurt am Main or a German military hospital in Hamburg sometime at the end of the year, the country’s security officials have been on high alert -- almost to the point of exaggeration some would say. In the northern port city of Hamburg, entire residential blocks surrounding the hospital were blocked off Wednesday as police and terrorist experts searched for potential bombs. It was such a rapid and massive mobilization of security forces that politicians in Berlin have criticized city officials for going too far.

"It’s like with storm warnings," observed the Darmstädter Echo, near Frankfurt, "there comes a time when no one takes them seriously any more, and then the alarm chain is torn apart at its most vulnerable link in the event of something really happening."

Referring to the criticism over the way the Hamburg government responded to the threat the Weser Kurier said it failed to understand what it calls "the shrill bickering of the politicians." Germany has no experience with Islamic terror threats and attacks, the north-German daily said and pointed out that handling them needs to be learned by politicians, experts and the ordinary people who have to live with a permanent state of alarm in future.

The nationally circulated Süddeutsche Zeitung warned against slipping into the kind of hysteria it sees in America and which has led to an isolationism through tough new entry procedures. "If terrorism aims to spread fear and destroy freedom," the Munich based paper wrote, "that strategy worked in Hamburg."

The Frankfurter Rundschau is one of several papers that put the security alert and its aftermath into an electioneering context. "It makes one suspicious," it opined, "when Hamburg’s interior minister promptly follows up his police actions with a demand for quicker procedures for expelling foreigners. And it makes one wonder when Bavaria’s interior minister announces tighter security measures only when it becomes apparent that the current terror alerts could be useful for fighting the Red-Green government in Berlin."

There was also a bit of commentary on Ireland taking over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency from Italy. "It’s a pretty catastrophic inheritance," commented the Märkische Oderzeitung, "and probably no European politician would envy Prime Minister Bertie Ahern the job. Seldom has the EU shown itself so torn as at its last summit in December."

"This could be the year the fate of the EU is decided," noted the Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, pointing to expansion, European elections, a new EU Commission taking office and many financial and constitutional issues filling the Brussels calendar. According to the paper, Ireland, which joined the bloc in 1973, maintains it understands the problems of the new member countries especially well and that many in Dublin hope, the "Celtic Tiger" could serve as an example to them.

"Putting all hope on the skill of the Irish presidency overrates its possibilities," argued the Sächsische Zeitung of Dresden. "Even if it’s more pragmatic and realistic than the Italian one, it won’t be able to work miracles." As one of the smaller EU members, Ireland could save the new partners from putting themselves offside from day one with exaggerated demands, the paper wrote.

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