Outrage at threat to down hijacked aircraft

18th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

18 September 2007, Berlin (dpa) - German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung has provoked outrage by warning that he would be prepared to give the order to shoot down a hijacked aircraft if it posed a threat in German airspace.

18 September 2007

Berlin (dpa) - German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung has provoked outrage by warning that he would be prepared to give the order to shoot down a hijacked aircraft if it posed a threat in German airspace.

Jung freely acknowledged that there was currently no constitutional backing for an order of this kind and that there was no consensus on the issue within the governing coalition.

But he said in an interview with the magazine Focus he would make use of emergency powers in an exceptional case.

"If there is no other way, I would give the order to shoot down (an aircraft) in order to protect our citizens," the defence minister said.

Dieter Wiefelspuetz, internal affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior coalition partner in the government, rejected Jung's remarks outright.

"The defence minister has to respect constitutional law," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in Berlin.

Referring to the decision by the Constitutional Court last year to remove from a new air safety bill a provision allowing a hijacked plane to be downed if it posed a threat, Wiefelspuetz said: "We have to respect the judgement and stick to it."

The court ruled the order could be given only if there were no innocents aboard the aircraft in question, placing their right to life above security considerations.

Opposition politician Burkhard Hirsch of the liberal FDP said it was the first time in modern German history that a minister had threatened to defy openly the country's highest court.

And the Greens, also in opposition, demanded Jung's resignation.

Under persistent questioning Monday, government spokesmen declined to be drawn on the issue, as journalists suggested the minister's main intention in restarting an old debate was party political.

Government ministers from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, among them Jung, have sought in recent weeks to establish clear positions of difference with the SPD.

And terrorism, given the September 4 arrests of three suspected Islamist bombers planning mass carnage, currently tops the German political agenda.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, also of the CDU, told a weekend newspaper the arrests had not cut the threat of terrorism.

"We know that we are in the cross-wires of Islamist terrorists," he said.

Schaeuble also referred to the possibility of a terrorist nuclear "dirty bomb," saying that it was merely a matter of time before terrorists spread chaos and confusion by detonating a device that spread radioactive material.

Expert opinion is divided on how effective such a device would be, and Schaeuble was immediately accused of scare-mongering.

"There is no sense in spreading senseless panic," SPD parliamentary caucus head Peter Struck said.

Schaeuble has for months been pressing for legal backing to spy on personal computers and to stiffen counter-terrorism laws in general, confident that he has the bulk of the population behind him.

SPD ministers have opposed his aims on civil liberties grounds.

But with Merkel and her party riding high in the polls, CDU politicians believe the time is right - halfway through the parliamentary term - to stake out clear differences from their SPD partners in government.

DPA

Subject: German news

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