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Germany

Schröder Said Ready to Deal on Immigration

Ahead of top-level talks on Germany's controversial immigration law, opposition members are calling for the imprisonment of top terror suspects. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is looking for ways to compromise.

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Suspected terrorist helpers would face imprisonment in Germany.

According to the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Schröder will head into talks with conservative leaders on Tuesday willing to compromise in order to achieve a breakthrough on proposed changes to Germany's immigration policies.

Citing government immigration experts, the magazine reported Schröder is willing to make it easier to deport foreigners "professing hatred" such as Islamic militants or members of other extremist creeds. He is also considering toughening up requirements for those foreigners wanting to permanently relocate to Germany by making them subject to investigation by domestic intelligence authorities.

But opposition politicians remained skeptical ahead of the talks. "I want to see concrete laws that include what's being promised," conservative Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber told German radio on Saturday.

A day before the talks, CDU domestic affairs expert Wolfgang Bosbach said Germany's constitution should be tinkered with so that law enforcement can lock up top terrorist suspects. As it stands now, Germany can either ship those suspects to their home countries, where they can be threatened with torture or death, or let them "roam free," said Bosbach.

"We can't take the first option, and we don't want to do the second," Bosbach told the Berliner Zeitung. Government officials said they weren't sure Schröder would be willing to go that far.

Germany's center-left ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens has long pushed for an overhaul of the nation's immigration policies arguing well-qualified foreigners will be needed in coming decades for business and industry and to help to keep social services from collapsing as Germany's population continues to age.

But the conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies -- never keen on letting more foreigners into the country -- have stalled the government's efforts in the upper house of parliament where they have a blocking majority. And since the terrorist attacks in Madrid in March they have made reaching an accord on immigration contingent on appeasing their internal security concerns.

Greens on board?

The Greens, in particular, have been rankled by the pressure from the conservatives, arguing their demands go too far. That caused them to back out of all-party talks earlier this month, but the Social Democrats have convinced them to continue to work for a deal.

Bundesinnenminister Otto Schily

Otto Schily

In an interview with Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper German Interior Minister Otto Schily was confident the two sides could strike a deal next week. "I have heard signals from the (conservatives) that also sound optimistic. Therefore I expect we'll find a solution," he said.

Besides wanting a speedy deportation of foreigners who belong to extremist outfits and who preach hate and violence, the conservative opposition also wants to set up a central database for storing details of Germans who invite foreigners requiring a visa and tighten rules on accepting asylum-seekers.

Schröder's government has already been forced to water down several points contained in the original draft immigration legislation of 2002 under pressure from the conservatives. For example, the SPD and Greens scrapped a points system that would have let highly-qualified foreigners into the country without an employment contract and have renounced demands that a hiring ban on foreigners outside the European Union be lifted.

That could mean if the talks on Tuesday fail, the ruling coalition could decide to go it alone and push ahead with legislation that doesn't need approval in the upper house. Some measures the SPD and Greens could begin with include integration courses for foreigners with language instruction and an introduction to German history and law, as well as hiring skilled foreign workers for certain branches much like the "Green Card" regulation in the IT sector.

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