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German spy chief Maaßen removed from his post

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German spy chief Maaßen removed from his post
Maaßen at a Bundestag meeting earlier in September. Photo: DPA
18:45 CEST+02:00
The German government said Tuesday it was relieving controversial spy chief Hans-Georg Maaßen of his duties and moving him to a different post, defusing a row that had rocked Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition.

"Mr Maaßen will become state secretary in the interior ministry," Merkel and the leaders of her coalition partners announced in a statement.

Maaßen had come under great political and public pressure because of controversial statements about xenophobic riots in Chemnitz which broke out following the murder of a 35-year-old German man, allegedly by asylum seekers. One of the suspects was freed by a Chemnitz court Tuesday.

Further details are to be discussed on Wednesday. No initial details were given about who is to succeed Maaßen.

Hatred in the streets

The far-right attacks, which sparked revulsion in Germany and abroad, were sparked by a fatal stabbing of a German man over which police are holding a Syrian suspect and searching for an Iraqi man, after a court freed another initial Iraqi suspect Tuesday.

Days after the unrest, Maaßen questioned the authenticity of amateur video footage showing street violence and voiced doubt that racists had indeed"hunted down" foreigners - comments that directly contradicted Merkel, who had deplored the xenophobic attacks and "hatred in the streets".

SPD leaders - as well as the opposition Greens, Free Democrats and Linke parties -- have demanded the resignation or sacking of the spy chief for political meddling, and pointed to his repeated meetings with leaders of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Whatever Maaßen's true political leanings, the issue has quickly turned him into a martyr of Merkel haters and the far-right.

The AfD's Alice Weidel wrote on Facebook that "anyone who criticizes Merkel's illegal immigration policy is mercilessly put through the wringer by the mainstream parties".

Deep chasms 

Maaßen has rejected accusations that he has supported AfD lawmakers with early access to unpublished data and advice on how to avoid surveillance byhis Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).

Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles has charged that Maaßen had "provided material for right-wing conspiracy theorists" while SPD youth wing leader

Kevin Kühnert, 29, mockingly urged him to "throw in his tin foil hat".

However, Maaßen has received the backing of his immediate boss, the CSU'shardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has for three years been

Merkel's nemesis within the ruling grand coalition. Seehofer, a harsh critic of Merkel's 2015 decision to allow a mass influx of migrants and refugees, had in July brought the government to the brink of collapse with his threat to shutter national borders to asylum seekers.

With that bitter dispute barely papered over, the conflict over Maaßen's fate once more highlights the deep chasms within Merkel's coalition.

On one level, both major parties, the CDU and SPD, are distrustful partners stuck in a political marriage of convenience after the AfD, a one-time fringe party, poached millions of their voters in last year's elections.

 'Mother of all problems' 

But the rift is deepest between Merkel and Seehofer, whose own political future hangs in the balance as his CSU braces for potentially massive losses to the AfD in Bavarian state elections next month.

Last week Seehofer labelled the migration issue "the mother of all problems" in German politics -- a comment read by many as a veiled reference to Merkel's nickname "Mutti", or Mummy.

Die Welt daily reported Monday that Merkel had decided to let Maaßen go, quoting unnamed coalition sources.

According to the paper, this could have wider political ramifications: Maaßen  reportedly told a closed-door meeting of conservative lawmakers

"Horst Seehofer told me that if I fall, he falls too". Merkel and Seehofer have for days declined to comment on the controversy publicly, other than to insist that the coalition will not break up over the issue.

 
 
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