'Islam now part of Germany': president

3rd October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's president called on his countrymen to work to integrate the country's four million Muslims, acknowledging that Islam is "now part of Germany".

Speaking from the northern city of Bremen on the 20th anniversary of reunification and in his first major set-piece speech, Christian Wulff focussed on the challenges ahead of modern, reunited Germany.

In particular, he spoke of the difficulties of integrating its large Muslim population.

"Twenty years after reunification, we stand before the huge task of finding new solidarity in a Germany that is part of a swiftly changing world," he said.

"Christianity is of course part of Germany. Judaism is of course part of Germany. This is our Judeo-Christian history ... But now Islam is also part of Germany," he added.

"When German Muslims write to me to say 'you are our president', I reply with all my heart 'yes, of course I am your president'."

Germany has four million Muslims among its 82 million inhabitants and the issue of their integration has been in the headlines for months.

A member of Germany's central bank, Thilo Sarrazin, sparked outrage when he said the country was being made "more stupid" by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim immigrants and soon after was forced to resign.

Wulff called for more tolerance from ordinary Germans, but he also insisted that immigrants make a real effort to integrate.

Those living in Germany should adhere to the country's constitution and its way of life, including learning the language, he said.

Wulff hailed the reunification of the free-market West and communist East barely a year after the Berlin Wall fell as "a momentous day that a people experience only rarely".

"I bow before everyone who fought for freedom ... your courage moved the world," he told an audience of dignitaries including Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, to generous applause.

Merkel, who was brought up in East Germany, recalled her life growing up under communism and said she would have been a "straightforward scientist" if the Berlin Wall had not fallen.

Now considered the world's most powerful woman, she told the weekly Bild am Sonntag that despite the constraints of life in East Germany, "it is certainly true to say that it was not boring".

Leaders of Russia and the United States, who once faced off on either side of the Iron Curtain that ran through Berlin, sent goodwill messages.

US President Barack Obama praised "the courage and conviction of the German people that brought down the Berlin Wall".

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said reunification carried an "enduring historic significance not only for the German people but for the whole of Europe".

After World War II, the victorious powers, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States, carved defeated Germany into four zones.

With the advent of the Cold War, Moscow erected a border between its eastern zone and the three western Allied sections, including the Wall that split Berlin in two.

On October 3, 1990, just under a year after the Wall was yanked down in a bloodless revolution, the reunification treaty bringing the two halves of the country together came into effect amid joyful scenes.

Ever since, this date has been a public holiday to mark Germany's national day.

In a recent poll, 84 percent of Germans said they believed national unification after four decades of division had been the right decision, despite a lingering economic gap between east and west.

Just 14 percent said unity had been a mistake, according to the survey for ZDF public television.

While Germany has become a leading light on the international political stage and is Europe's top economy, the country is still battling to overcome yawning gaps between the west and the east.

Unemployment remains nearly twice as high in the eastern states and living standards are considerably lower, despite an estimated 1.3 trillion euros (1.8 trillion dollars) in transfers from west to east.

The celebrations took place under heavy security after around 1,800 mainly left-wing activists conducted a march in Bremen on Saturday evening.

Celebrations continued later Sunday in Berlin with a festival in front of the parliament building.

© 2010 AFP

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