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CRIME

E. coli death toll hits 30

The death toll from an outbreak of killer bacteria centred on Germany jumped to at least 30 on Thursday, as EU and Russian leaders got ready to cross swords over Moscow's ban on EU vegetables.

E. coli death toll hits 30
Photo: DPA

The latest victim was a 57-year-old man in Frankfurt who last month travelled with his wife to the northern city of Hamburg, an epicentre of the outbreak, authorities in the western city said.

The death of a 68-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman were also reported in the northern state of Lower Saxony. The toll is now at least 30, including one woman in Sweden who had recently returned from Germany.

More than 2,800 people were also ill in at least 14 countries with enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) poisoning, which in severe cases can lead to renal failure. Most are women.

Germany had expressed hope Wednesday that the worst of the outbreak was over, with Health Minister Daniel Bahr saying the number of new infections was falling.

Spain’s Europe minister meanwhile secured a promise from German officials to make amends for earlier incorrectly blaming Spanish cucumbers for the outbreak by helping to repair the image of the country’s produce.

“The German government has agreed to make an effort to improve the image of Spanish produce in Germany,” Diego Lopez Garrido said in Berlin after talks with counterpart Werner Hoyer.

“Twenty-five percent of our vegetable exports are to Germany, it is our most important export market. Therefore it is also the duty of the German government to assist us with promotion.”

He described as “unfortunate” a false alarm by Hamburg’s top health official two weeks ago blaming Spanish cucumbers as a source for the outbreak that prompted an European Union-wide alert, later withdrawn.

“A mistake was made and mistakes remain mistakes but we must move forward together,” Lopez Garrido said.

He said Madrid would not sue Hamburg for compensation, and would not get involved in any private lawsuits by Spanish growers, who are losing €225 million ($328 million) per week according to the FEPEX umbrella body.

He described as “not necessarily sufficient” a revised offer from the European Commission for compensation of €210 million for producers across Europe.

Moscow’s blanket ban imposed last week on all vegetable imports from the EU was expected to be a point of contention at a two-day summit between Russian and EU leaders in Nizhny Novgorod starting Thursday.

With Russia the largest market for its vegetables, the EU has reacted furiously to the ban, calling for it to be lifted immediately.

A source in the Russian delegation underlined the awkward atmosphere ahead of the talks, describing the EU reaction as “abnormal” and suggesting its diplomats should publicly eat European cucumbers.

The search for the source of the outbreak continued, meanwhile.

Authorities in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt played down the discovery of cucumber pieces with traces of the killer bacteria in the two-week-old rubbish of a Magdeburg family who fell ill.

“According to the information we have now, this is not a decisive lead,” a spokesman for the state social affairs ministry told news agency AFP.

Tests were continuing meanwhile at an organic sprout farm on which suspicion had fallen at the weekend.

Health Minister Bahr said Germany would maintain its warning against eating raw tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and various sprouts until the cause of the contamination was known.

The Robert Koch Institute national health centre said it was not certain whether the drop in new cases was linked to consumers avoiding the blacklisted vegetables.

In a sign that the outbreak was scaring people into avoiding Germany, Britain’s rowing team on Wednesday withdrew from the World Cup regatta in Hamburg later this month.

AFP/mry

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CRIME

101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

A 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard on Monday once again denied being complicit in war crimes during the Holocaust as his trial drew to a close in Germany.

101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

Josef Schütz, the oldest person so far to face trial over Nazi crimes during World War II, is accused of involvement in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, has pleaded innocent throughout the trial, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said again at the close of the proceedings, his voice wavering.

Dressed in a grey shirt and pyjama bottoms and sitting in a wheelchair, Schütz insisted he had had nothing to do with the atrocities and was “telling the truth”.

READ ALSO: Ex-Nazi death camp secretary who fled trial to face court in Germany

Prosecutors say he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the crimes as a guard at the camp and are seeking to punish him with five years behind bars.

But Schütz’s lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, said that since there were no photographs of him wearing an SS uniform, the case was based on “hints” of his possible involvement.

“As early as 1973, investigators had information about him but did not pursue him. At the time, witnesses could have been heard but now they are all dead or no longer able to speak,” Waterkamp said.

Former Nazi guard

The 101-year-old former Nazi guard covers his face at the Neuruppin courthouse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

It would be a mistake for the court to try to “make up for the mistakes of a previous generation of judges”, the lawyer said.

Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, told AFP Schuetz “does not want to remember”, calling it “a form of defence”.

The trial was not just about “putting a centenarian in prison”, he said. It had also produced evidence that Sachsenhausen was an “experimental extermination camp”.

“All the cruellest methods were invented there and then exported,” Grumbach said.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

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