Germany ousts domestic spy chief at centre of govt row

Germany ousts domestic spy chief at centre of govt row

BERLIN - Agence France Presse
Germany ousts domestic spy chief at centre of govt row

Germany’s interior minister on Monday forced out domestic spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen, whose controversial comments about racist far-right protesters threw Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government into crisis.

Maassen, 55, was pushed into early retirement -- rather than into another government post as earlier planned -- after he exacerbated the controversy by blaming "radical left-wing forces" in Merkel’s coalition government for his troubles.

Maassen had also criticised Merkel’s "naive" immigration policy in a Warsaw farewell speech last month to fellow heads of European domestic intelligence organisations, it emerged at the weekend.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who had long defended Maassen, told a press conference Monday that the spy chief’s latest comments were "unacceptable" and had left him "personally disappointed".

Seehofer, himself under pressure over the row and over poor regional election results in Bavaria state last month, said he had asked German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to retire Maassen into inactive status.

Maassen -- according to a transcript of his Warsaw speech published by the Bild and Sueddeutsche dailies -- had said he could imagine switching "to business or politics" after quitting the leadership of the BfV security agency.

The Maassen dispute centred on controversial comments he made that played down the severity of far-right racist mob violence in the eastern city of Chemnitz in late August that shocked Germany and the world.

Merkel deplored the xenophobic unrest, but Maassen soon contradicted her and questioned whether any "hunting down" of foreigners had taken place, and whether amateur video footage of the confrontations had been fake.

While his comments were cheered by the far right, the three opposition parties and the Social Democrats (SPD) demanded he be fired for meddling in politics -- sparking a row within the Merkel coalition government that lasted for weeks.

That infighting was partially blamed for poor state election results that led Merkel to announce last week that she would not stand again for the leadership of her Christian Democrats, marking the beginning of the end of her reign.

Maassen, who had been due to move to a top bureaucrat’s post in Seehofer’s interior ministry, had in his Warsaw speech defended his initial assessment that no "hunting down" of foreigners took place in Chemnitz.

"I have seen a lot of German media manipulation and Russian disinformation," he said in his address.

"But to see politicians and the media freely invent ’hunts’, or at least to spread this misinformation without checking it, to me represented a new step in false reporting in Germany."

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