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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 11:35 GMT
Germany slashes army bases
German soldiers
Germany wants to turn its army into a modern force
Germany is closing 59 army bases and slicing 17% from its manpower in a drive to cut costs.

Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping said the cuts were part of a project to slim down and modernise the German military - recently described in an independent report as a bloated, badly-organised Cold War dinosaur.

As well as saving money, Germany is also trying to transform its military into a more professional army capable of deployment into trouble-spots.

German forces were stung by criticism during the Kosovo campaign that they were poorly-equipped and inflexible.

But the cuts have been heavily criticised by the southern state of Bavaria, which is bearing a disproportionately heavy loss.

East German soldiers on Berlin Wall
Some of the bases being closed are Cold War relics
As the nationwide changes take effect, the balance between conscripts and professional soldiers will be swung in favour of the professionals.

The force will end up at a strength of 282,000 - down from 310,000 - and thousands of civilian workers will also be axed.

The bases targeted for closure - 39 large sites and 20 smaller ones - represent about a tenth of German army facilities.

"These closures may be painful, and they will be painful," Mr Scharping said.

Critics

Some of the bases being shut are former Cold War outposts near the border with the old East Germany.

Others will stay open because closing them would have had too devastating an impact on the local economy.

The closure programme is expected to claw back some $100m in savings - although some observers say the figure could have been trebled if the closure plan had been more ruthlessly executed, without taking local needs into consideration.

The old East Germany is bearing only 10% of the lost posts - while 20% will fall in Bavaria.

Bavaria 'punished'

Bavarian reaction has been swift and angry.

Chancellor Schroeder was trying to "punish" the state, said Thomas Goppel, secretary-general of the conservative Christian Social Union.

Anti-government opinion has already been growing in Bavaria over tough new measures to combat mad cow disease.

The state also provides the power base for the man seen as Mr Schroeder's main rival, Edmund Stoiber, who is Bavarian prime minister and an outspoken critic of the German chancellor.

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