German minister under fire for Afghan 'PR' trip

13th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's defence minister, touted as a possible future chancellor, was accused Monday of turning a trip to Afghanistan into a publicity stunt after taking his wife and a talkshow host with him.

The visit to northern Afghanistan by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, his wife Stephanie and chatshow supremo Johannes B. Kerner shows the couple "is more about show than substance", the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger daily said.

Hannelore Kraft, a deputy leader of the opposition Social Democrats, accused the couple of behaving as though the 39-year-old had already succeeded fellow conservative Angela Merkel as chancellor.

"When politics is staged it makes people more fed with up politics," Kraft told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. "This is particularly so when it comes to our soldiers' dangerous mission in Afghanistan."

Greens party co-head Claudia Roth called the trip "crude self-promotion" while the far-left pacifist Die Linke said the minister should have taken to Germany's 4,600 troops in Afghanistan "orders to come home, not his PR retinue".

Zu Guttenberg touched down Monday in Mazar-i-Sharif, command headquarters for the northern region, where most of the 4,500 German soldiers deployed to Afghanistan are stationed, before going to the Kunduz military camp, the defence ministry said.

"I would simply like, before Christmas, to say thank you to the soldiers," he said when questioned on arrival by German ARD television.

The aristocratic zu Guttenberg -- or Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jakob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, to give him his full name -- is Germany's most popular politician.

Zu Guttenberg's noble family goes back to the Middle Ages, with a castle and a coat of arms, and his wife is a direct descendent of Otto von Bismarck, the 19th century "Iron Chancellor" and father of the modern German state.

Nicknamed "the rocking baron" for his love of rock music, he became economy minister in February 2009 and moved to defence after Merkel's re-election seven months later, and he is widely seen as having ambitions for the top job.

But Merkel's leadership is unchallenged, as other figures once seen as potential rivals have been sidelined over the years, and this is not the first time that zu Guttenberg has found himself under fire.

His wife has no political role but has risen in prominence in recent months, most notably spearheading a campaign against child pornography.

Germany forms the third largest contingent of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the United States and Britain, but the mission is unpopular among voters, surveys show. Forty-four German troops have been killed.

A government report to the German parliament made public on Monday said that the conditions were in place for there to be a "definite turning point" in the mission in 2011.

The report attacked however high levels of corruption within Afghanistan, as well as a lack of determination, a random decision-making process and insufficient government personnel.

© 2010 AFP

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