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14 February 2005
BERLIN - Under opposition fire, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer admitted on Monday that his ministry erred when it fast-tracked visas for hundreds of thousands of visitors, but said he would only give details at a parliamentary inquiry.
Staff at the German embassies in Kiev and Tirana were sacked for handing out tourist visas improperly to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Albanians seeking illegal work in Germany.
With anti-foreigner sentiment growing in Germany, conservative parties blame the lack of checks on an edict issued in 2000 by the Berlin foreign ministry. Policy was tightened again last year.
"I take political responsibility for possible failures to act and errors by my staff," said Fischer outside a meeting of top leaders of his Greens party in Berlin. "The principle of ministerial responsibility applies and I stand by my staff."
Fischer rejected demands by junior opposition Christian Democrats that he resign, calling this a "power play".
Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke out in support of his Foreign Minister, who is also deputy chancellor.
"If the opposition think they can pull down Fischer, they are making a huge miscalculation," he said. "Joschka Fischer has my complete confidence and my full support and has the support of the whole coalition."
Fischer said he was willing to testify immediately to a parliamentary committee appointed to investigate the scandal, and would cite all the occasions when Christian Democrat lawmakers had appealed on behalf of constituents for more visas to be issued.
Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel said she was not satisfied with Fischer's statement and the Bundestag inquiry would continue "step for step".
News reports say the Kiev embassy for a time was issuing 20,000 visas a month, with prostitution rings and people smugglers taking advantage of the opening to spirit illegals into the whole European Union.
But the foreign minister denied Monday that the 2000 edict had led to the "events in Kiev". Easier visas had been introduced by a Christian Democrat government before Fischer and Schroeder took power in 1998, he said.
Pressure on Fischer increased Friday when former state minister Ludger Volmer stepped down from his current post as Greens foreign policy spokesman. Volmer, who had signed the edict while he was deputy to Fischer at the ministry, has taken most of the heat.
Subject: German news
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