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Germany

New Allegations Against Embattled Minister

German Foreign Minister Fischer, engulfed in a tourist visa row, saw first-hand the vast number of people flocking to the country's embassy in Ukraine years ago, according to a newspaper report.

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Did Fischer turn a blind eye to this?

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said that Fischer had witnessed during a visit to Kiev in June 2000 how the German embassy there was overwhelmed by people seeking travel visas.

"My goodness, did they all come to see me?" he joked at the time, according to the respected weekly.

Anstehen nach Visa am Konsulat in Kiew

The German embassy in Kiev

Fischer has been accused of indirectly allowing thousands of clandestine immigrants from the former Soviet bloc -- Ukraine in particular -- to enter Germany between 2000 and 2003 after tourist visa criteria were relaxed.

The allegations, by the conservative opposition, include claims that his lack of vigilance fostered organized crime, a submerged economy and prostitution.

Fischer, the country's most popular politician until the scandal broke, has acknowledged making mistakes but has refused to resign. He has also received the backing of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Foreign ministry spokesman Walter Lindner confirmed Fischer's visit to the Kiev embassy but said that it was only to examine staffing issues. "There was no question about the misuse of visas," Lindner said. The German Foreign Ministry has until now insisted that Fischer only got wind of the visa abuse affair much later.

But Fischer did order an increase in visa-issuing staff on his return, the newspaper said, which led to the fact that the number of German visas issued by the embassy in Kiev between 1999 and 2001 almost doubled to 300,000.

Fischer considered stepping down

Bundesaussenminister Joschka Fischer spricht am Samstag, 26. Feb. 2005, in Koeln auf der Landesdeligiertenkonferenz der nordrhein-westfaelischen Gruenen ueber die Visa-Affaere#

Joschka Fischer

"I've made mistakes," Fischer (photo) told a Cologne meeting of his party, the Greens, junior members of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrat-led government coalition, at the end of last month. "I did not react with sufficient speed or firmness, or fully enough as the responsible minister," he said.

In an interview with Saturday's Frankfurter Rundschau, Fischer, who is also deputy chancellor, said that he had considered stepping down over the affair. "It's a question that I put to myself, myself and others," he said. "And when I look at that on balance, taking into account the foreign and domestic political challenges facing us, I arrived at the conclusion: I will stay on."

Germany's conservative opposition has seized upon the latest allegations as further proof that Fischer turned a blind eye to the unfolding abuse in his own department.

"It's very obvious now that Fischer's earlier confession that he didn't have anything to do with the visa policies is simply not true," Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. "If the report is true, then Fischer lied."

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