German minister defends handling of fatal accidents

24th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, facing mounting criticism over deadly accidents involving soldiers, on Monday defended his decision to suspend a commander.

Zu Guttenberg, a suave aristocrat who regularly tops politician popularity rankings, relieved the captain of a naval training vessel of his duties Saturday after the death of a female cadet in November sparked an alleged mutiny.

Opposition leaders have accused the minister of seeking a scapegoat to cover up his own failure to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the trainee's death. Zu Guttenberg fired off a strongly-worded statement in response.

"The decisions made over the weekend were appropriate and necessary. Some of the statements (criticising me) reveal remarkable cluelessness," he said.

"I recommend to those who were already up in arms before the fact to become familiar with the basics of laws covering civil servants and soldiers."

He said Commander Norbert Schatz had been removed from his duties to facilitate a thorough investigation of the fatal accident.

"In light of these accusations, this measure is also in his interest," zu Guttenberg said. "If these allegations prove to be false, then his career will continue as planned."

According to reports, cadets had refused Schatz's orders to climb the rigging after the 25-year-old female trainee plunged to her death from a yardarm while the ship was sailing off Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.

German media have since said that chaotic conditions reigned on the three-masted vessel including frequent incidents of sexual harassment.

The father of another female cadet on the Gorch Fock who fell to her death in 2008 called Monday for a new probe into her accident.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters zu Guttenberg had Chancellor Angela Merkel's "full support".

Zu Guttenberg, also under fire for other incidents involving the armed forces, called Sunday for a comprehensive probe of possible systemic problems in the German military.

© 2011 AFP

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