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Legacy of Terrorism

dw staff / DPA (tt)
May 12, 2007

A former terrorist convicted in the murder of one of West Germany's top bankers 30 years ago has become a campaign issue ahead of elections in the German city-state of Bremen on May 13.

The Red Army Faction (RAF) was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in GermanyImage: AP Graphics/DW

The case of Susanne Albrecht has added a new element to the political mudslinging dominated by disputes over family issues, calls for a minimum wage and education policies.

Bremen, the smallest of Germany's 16 federal states with 490,000 eligible voters, has been governed for 12 years by an alliance of Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU), reflecting the make-up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition in Berlin.

But the two parties were at each other's throats last week when it emerged that Albrecht had been teaching German to migrant children at a Bremen school for more than 10 years.

Convicted murderer

Susanne Albrecht RAF Terroristin
Susanne Albrecht, right, in a photo dated 1991Image: AP

Albrecht was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1991 for her role in the July 1977 slaying of Dresdner Bank chief Jürgen Ponto in a botched kidnapping attempt by Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists.

Paroled in 1996 after serving half her sentence, the now 56-year-old settled in Bremen where she has been living under an assumed name and working as a language teacher.

"Parents don't want their children to be taught by RAF terrorists," said Thomas Röwekamp, the CDU leader who is vying with SPD incumbent Jens Böhrnsen for the state's top post of governing mayor.

Former SPD leader Henning Scherf dismissed Röwekamp's call for Albrecht's removal, saying she had turned her back on terrorism a long time ago and no longer posed a threat.

"Such outrage is nothing but electioneering," Scherf said. "Shortly before the vote, an old issue is being dredged up again. Anyone surfing the internet can read that Susanne Albrecht is working as a teacher today."

Parents at the school where Albrecht works recently issued a statement, saying they were outraged that Albrecht's past was being used as a campaign issue in the Bremen elections. Albrecht "should continue her very successful work with the children of our school," the statement said.

Chasing the votes?

Juergen Ponto
Jürgen Ponto was murdered on 30 July 1977Image: AP

Latest opinion polls show the CDU trailing the SPD by 28 percent to 40 per cent ahead of Sunday's vote for the 83-member Bremen senate.

The SPD, with its party color of red, has not made a pre-election commitment about which party it will govern with in future, leading to speculation it might favor an alliance with the Greens, who are tipped to win 14 per cent of the vote.

"If there are enough votes for a Red-Green majority, they'll go with that," said Lothar Probst, a political researcher at the University of Bremen. "Otherwise it'll be a reluctant renewal of the previous coalition."

The latter would suit Merkel's advisors, who are anxious to ensure that a result favoring the SPD is not seen as a litmus test for the popularity of her 18-month-old coalition at national level.

A popularity contest

Kurt Beck lacht
SPD national chairman Kurt BeckImage: AP

SPD national chairman Kurt Beck is hoping that a good showing by his party will shore up his own position in the light of a recent survey that put him well behind the chancellor in voter popularity.

Beck, who marks one year in office the day after the Bremen election, enjoys the support of only 38 percent of the electorate compared to 70 per cent for Merkel, according to a poll conducted for the main ARD television network last week.

At national level, the SPD has seen its support drop to 27 per cent, compared to 34 per cent for Merkel's party, which has seized the initiative on a range of issues usually considered Social Democrat territory.

Sensitive issues

In the last elections four years ago voters in Bremen's adjacent port of Bremerhaven elected a member of the extreme right-wing German People's Union (DVU) to the state parliament. Surveys expect a slight increase in the DVU's share of the vote this time around.

The northern state, with an unemployment rate of 13.1 percent, one of the highest in Germany, is also plagued by a high rate of youth crime and child poverty.

The state's justice affairs senator resigned last October after the body of a two-year-old boy in the care of her department was found stuffed in the refrigerator of his drug-addict father.

The case, which infuriated Germans, led to calls for an early warning system to assist children suffering neglect or abuse.

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