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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Trial over Berlin Wall shootings
guards
German guards watched as the wall opened in 1989
Three former senior politicians from East Germany have gone on trial for manslaughter over the shooting dead of people trying to escape across the Berlin Wall.

Herbert Haeber, Hans-Joachim Boehme and Siegfried Lorenz face sample charges relating to the hundreds who died.

Their trial is expected to be the last attempt by German authorities to take the regime's leaders to task for the killings.

wall
Clmbing over the wall was not always so easy
During the Berlin Wall's 28-year existence, anyone who tried to clamber over to the West risked death.

Prosecutors have chosen four killings, from 1984 to 1989, including that of Chris Gueffroy, the last victim of the shoot-to-kill policy before the wall came down.

Lorenz and Boehme, who were members of the Politburo from 1986 until the collapse of the state in 1989, are charged with complicity in three killings.

Haeber, who served in the Politburo for a 14-month period ending in 1985, is charged over one death.

Bias claims

The three are accused of not speaking out against the bloodshed.

Another former high-ranking Communist official, Werner Eberlein, was also charged in connection with the killings, but his trial could not go ahead because the 80-year-old was deemed incapable of following proceedings.

Three other senior members of the Politburo, including former East German leader Egon Krenz, are already serving prison terms after being convicted on similar charges in 1997.

Their appeals to Germany's higher courts failed last year.

Krenz argued that the trial was politically motivated and his conviction unconstitutional because he had broken no East German laws.

Lorenz's lawyer Friedrich Wolff made similar criticisms on Tuesday, saying the court was biased because it was former West German and therefore anti-communist.

"The problem is the West is deciding on the East," he said.

Prosecutors are trying to complete many cases before the 10th anniversary of German reunification in October, when the statute of limitations on such crimes runs out.

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09 Nov 99 | Europe
Memories from the Wall
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