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Von der Leyen, de Maizière show solidarity over faulty G36 rifle

At a committee hearing last month, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen appeared to criticize her predecessor. This time, both were present. While the pair did express unity, it was seen as somewhat brittle.

Von der Leyen and her predecessor at Germany's troubled defense ministry, Thomas de Maizière, attempted a show of solidarity as they appeared before a Bundestag defense committee on Wednesday.

The pair were there to answer questions about the G36 assault rifle, which has been found to overheat and become inaccurate in a hot environment or when it is fired too much.

At a defense committee in May, von der Leyen

appeared to criticize de Maiziere

for his handling of the G36 rifle debacle, saying the weapon should have been withdrawn when the problems first became apparent. But on Tuesday the two ministers seemed keen to convey unity.

Von der Leyen and de Maizière, both members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), even appeared together for journalists after the meeting.

Praise for predecessor

"We both have the same view of things," said von der Leyen, after defense committee sitting, even going so far as to thank de Maizière for having set up an inquiry into the rifle. Von der Leyen announced in April that some 167,000 rifles would need to be

scrapped or adapted

. "I am thankful that Thomas de Maizière got the investigations off the ground," she said.

Now interior minister, de Maizière led the defense ministry in 2012, when doubts about the Heckler & Koch rifle emerged. In November 2012, the ministry assured parliamentarians that the G36 worked.

De Maizière told reporters the rifle still appeared to be a good weapon when he left the defense ministry in December 2013. "That was my overview of the situation at the end of my time in office," he said. "I am not going to comment about the subsequent period."

'A direct broadside'

The pair refused to answer any further questions on the subject. But a crack in the united front did appear once de Maizière left, when von der Leyen complained that a sluggish culture had prevailed at the ministry she inherited.

"That was a direct broadside against her predecessor," said opposition Left party politician Jan van Aken, who noted the pair appeared to be "one heart and one mind" in the committee meeting itself.

Von der Leyen has herself come in for criticism from the Left party for not noticing the problems with the rifle since she took charge of defense in December 2013, with the Greens calling it "incomprehensible."

A series of

embarrassing revelations over the German military

have hit the headlines in recent years, with claims of poorly maintained helicopters, broken tanks and missing spare parts. De Maizière also came under fire over the costly

Euro Hawk drone project

, which was canceled when it became clear the aircraft would not get flight clearance over Europe.

Von der Leyen has claimed that her predecessors were chiefly to blame for the series of blunders, and ordered an independent report into the state of the military from leading auditing firm KPMG. The

report returned a list of 140 problems

in the Bundeswehr.

Nine major projects worth 57 billion euros ($72 billion) were either running late, or over-budget, or were delivered faulty, the report said.

rc/bk (AFP, dpa)

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