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Espionage

Merkel fronts Bundestag on NSA spying, Ukraine

Angela Merkel has said allegations over US spying in Germany have put the relationship between the two nations "to the test." The German chancellor’s comments came as the Bundestag met to debate several telling issues.

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Merkel opens debate on NSA spying

Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the parliamentary session with statements on a proposed free-trade deal for the EU with Ukraine, as well as the bloc's relationship with other East European countries - on the eve of a summit this week.

Ukraine and the EU are scheduled to sign a deal on November 28-29, in what is seen as a major step towards entry into the bloc.

Ukraine is under pressure from Russia to join its own customs union, and it must also meet several conditions stipulated by the EU. One of those is to allow jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko to go abroad for medical treatment.

"I have to say today that it is not yet certain whether Ukraine is willing to fulfill the criteria for a possible association agreement," Merkel told the Bundestag.

Leading the agenda in Bundestag lower house on Monday, however, were the accusations of spying. In October, it emerged among documents leaked from the United States' National Security Agency by Edward Snowden that Merkel’s phone may have been tapped.

The revelations sparked an immediate outcry in Germany, and resulted in the summoning of the US ambassador in Berlin and frank conversations between Merkel and US President Barack Obama.

"The transatlantic relationship and therefore also the negotiations for a free trade agreement are presently without doubt being put to the test by the remaining accusations against the US and the collection of millions of data," Merkel said.

"The accusations are grave. They must be explained and, more important still for the future, new trust must be built.”

She added, however, that strong ties with the US "remains a fundamental guarantor for our freedom and our security."

Support for Snowden, criticism for Merkel

Merkel again heard calls to provide amnesty for Snowden, who is under temporary asylum in Russia. Hans-Christian Ströbele, a Greens Party member who met Snowden in Russia, wrote in a New York Times editorial that Germany owed the US fugitive that much: "Without [Snowden], Ms Merkel would still be a target for monitoring, and surveillance of German diplomats, businessmen and ordinary citizens would be continuing, undetected," he wrote.

"Granting him asylum wouldn't be about revenge or retaliation for spying on us. It would be a decision based on our fundamental values - and a moral duty.”

The Left Party's parliamentary group leader, Gregor Gysi, lashed out at Merkel and her government, accusing them of selling out to the US. "Moral cowardice is no good basis for friendship," he said, stressing that the recent revelations threw into question whether transatlantic relations were really marked by mutual respect.

The Social Democrat's Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, said Berlin should not be satisfied until it gets "reliable, verifiable agreements" with Washington to prevent such spying in the future.

Monday's parliamentary debate came amid fresh revelations on US secret service and military activities, which suggest far-reaching involvement of US agents in Germany, including the screening of travellers at German airports.

ph/rg (AP, AFP)

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