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Defence chief shot down over shooting quip

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Defence chief shot down over shooting quip
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen tries on military body armour. Photo: DPA
13:37 CEST+02:00
Amid heated debates over arms for Iraq, the Ukraine crisis, and Germany's foreign military involvement despite its WWII legacy, defence chief Ursula von der Leyen stirred a debate of her own on Friday after a dud World Cup gag.
It was meant to be a throwaway one-liner during an interview with Die Zeit weekly newspaper, presumably to avoid having to take a clear issue stance.
 
Asked whether the World Cup should still be held in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, in view of Moscow's support for rebels in eastern Ukraine and Doha's for Isis forces in Syria and Iraq, the minister didn't hesitate:
 
"Wherever the [World Cup] play takes place, Germany will send shooting personnel," she responded, alluding to Germany's goal-blasting performance that won the trophy in Brazil last month.
 
Lame pun, get over it, move on? 
 
Not for the minister's social-democratic (SPD) colleagues in Germany's grand coalition, or the left-wing opposition, and plenty of readers of the interview and the slew of 'shocked' articles that appeared in Friday's papers.
 
"Such flippant comments are completely inappropriate in the current crises," responded SPD General Secretary Yasmin Fahimi. 
 
Bernd Riexinger, the head of the socialist Left party, took the trouble to tweet: "I don't think I can laugh at the jokes of Ursula von der Leyen."
 
Many readers who commented were also up in arms (pun intended), although others dismissed the flaring reaction as a waste of time amid more pressing concerns.
 
"Someone who has seen wounded and dead soldiers should know what they are saying," one wrote in response to von der Leyen.
 
"Tasteless," "Couldn't be more inappropriate", wrote others. 
 
Others merely expressed outrage at the outrage. 
 
"To get so worked up over such a mediocre joke is more embarrassing. Is that the best the Left party can do? Pathetic!" responded another.
 
Von der Leyen was unrepentant, however.
 
"That was naturally a joke," her spokesman Jens Flosdorff told Die Zeit after publication of the interview. "The minister stands by her comments."   
 
So are jokes OK in German politics? As a rule of thumb, only if they are not too close to the knuckle.
 
Which in view of the deeply instilled sensitivity of Germans to militaristic matters, probably doomed the minister's attempt from the start.
 
A similar pun-triggered storm in a teacup erupted in June amid public outrage over NSA eavesdropping on German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 
"You are still being monitored, as before," prominent Left party politician Gregor Gysi sternly warned the President of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, who is known for his sharp comebacks.
 
"At least I do this with 'Fassung', unlike you," Lammert shot back, punning on the word's dual meaning of 'composure' and 'socket' for an electrical device, including espionage equipment.
 
Members of the chamber could not stifle a laugh at the riposte, but critical comments flooded the media and internet soon after.
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