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Germany

Germany in Brief

Defense Minister favors expanding mandate in Afghanistan; heat wave increases danger of forest fires; Chancellor Schröder to visit United Nations and more.

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Germany has so far been spared major forest fires this summer.

Struck backs wider Afghanistan mandate

German Defense Minister Peter Struck has spoken out in favor of expanding the German military's peacekeeping mandate in Afghanistan. "We must demonstrate a greater presence in Afghanistan," Struck told the German ZDF television on Wednesday. But he said civilian rather than military tasks should have priority. "I will recommend this to the chancellor and the foreign minister," he said. Struck did not say how many more German soldiers should be sent to the country. Around 2,300 are currently part of the International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), which is responsible for ensuring security in Kabul and the immediate surroundings. Struck will travel to the Afghan capital on Monday for the transfer of ISAF command from Germany and the Netherlands to NATO. The German government plans to decide in September whether it will send soldiers to take part in the activities of provincial reconstruction teams.

Threat of forest fires increases Following weeks of dry, hot weather Germany's Ministry for Agriculture has warned people to be especially cautious. "We have had more forest fires in the first half of 2003 than in all of last year," Deputy Agriculture Minister Alexandra Müller told ZDF television. Many German regions have declared states of alert for fear of forest fires; others have prohibited people from entering woods. Temperatures have reached near 40 celsius (104 fahrenheit) in parts of Germany. The German Weather Service has said the weather is unlikely to change for at least a week.

Greenpeace calls for driving ban

Environmental groups have called for a driving ban to lower rising ozone levels caused by the hot weather in Germany. "With a consistent driving ban the level could be reduced significantly," Greenpeace expert Karsten Smid told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. Greenpeace demanded that vehicles without catalytic converters should be banned from the streets when ozone levels reach 120 micrograms, the limit established by the World Health Organization. Values of up to 200 micrograms have been measured recently in parts of the country. The German branch of Friends of the Earth, BUND, criticized the lack of new regulations on ozone levels to replace legislation on summer smog that expired in 1999, according to the paper. The law had allowed driving bans for cars when ozone levels reached 240 micrograms.

Chancellor plans trip to United Nations

The United Nations may be able to reckon on a visit from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the fall. Schröder plans to visit the U.N. General Assembly in New York in late September, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper reported on Wednesday. The chancellery said a final decision would be made shortly. A government spokesman told journalists in Berlin that it was "very possible" that Schröder would take part in the U.N. meeting, but that there were no current plans for Schröder to meet with U.S. President Bush. The newspaper had suggested that the two leaders might meet when Schröder was in the United States. They have not met individually for more than a year.

Compiled with material from wire agencies.