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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 09:03 GMT
Krenz loses Berlin Wall appeal
Krenz in court
Krenz still has the power to divide Germans
The European Court of Human Rights has rejected an appeal by East Germany's last communist ruler Egon Krenz against a manslaughter conviction for Cold War-era shootings along the Berlin Wall.

The court upheld a German court's 1999 verdict that Krenz, as the politburo member in charge of security, should serve six-and-a-half years in jail for four shootings in the 1980s.

East German border guards as the Wall came down
The former leader claims credit for the "bloodless" transition
It also upheld the convictions of former Defence Minister General Heinz Kessler, aged 80, and his deputy Fritz Streletz, 74.

The three men had appealed against their sentences, arguing that they had not broken any East German laws, but the Strasbourg-based court ruled that they had violated international human rights law.

The court also rejected a similar appeal against a manslaughter conviction by an unnamed border guard.

Krenz began serving his sentence in January 2000 and was released to travel to Strasbourg last November - on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Wall's fall - to plead his case.

He was granted another leave to attend the latest session but his lawyer said he could not afford the trip.

Border guards patrolling the frontier between East and West Germany were under instructions to shoot to kill anyone attempting to flee the Communist east for a new life in the west.

Political responsibility

Although none of the three senior officials was convicted of pulling the trigger, they were judged to bear political responsibility.

Kessler was sentenced to 7 years in prison and Streletz to 5.5 years.

Heinz Kessler
Kessler: No shoot-to-kill policy
Both were members of the East German National Defense Council that oversaw shoot-to-kill orders at the Berlin Wall and other border barriers to the West.

Kessler's lawyer had told the court that East Germany never had a formal policy to shoot and kill those trying to flee westward.

The German Government's lawyer argued that even East German courts would have punished those responsible for the deaths, had charges ever been brought there.

The European Court of Human Rights has the power to overturn rulings from national courts that it deems to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Hundreds of former East German border guards and officials have been convicted since German unification for shootings at the former border. Most received suspended sentences or parole.

Krenz has said he is a victim of a Cold War in the courtroom, but his lawyers say there is no question of a further appeal.

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See also:

07 Sep 00 | Europe
Berlin Wall officials freed
09 Nov 99 | Europe
Memories from the Wall
14 Jan 00 | Europe
East German leader jailed
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