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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 13:31 GMT


World: Europe

Court upholds Berlin Wall convictions

Egon Krenz: Dismissed verdict as "victor's justice"

East Germany's last communist leader, Egon Krenz, has lost his appeal against his conviction for the manslaughter of people shot dead trying to cross the Berlin Wall.

A court in Leipzig upheld Krenz's six-and-a-half year sentence for his role in East Germany's shoot-to-kill policy at the wall.


Berlin correspondent Rob Broomby: "Cheers from the public gallery"
It also threw out appeals by two of his former colleagues at the ruling Politburo, Guenter Schabowski and Guenther Kleiber, who had been sentenced to three years.

Nearly 1,000 people were killed trying to escape to the West after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.

The ruling comes a day before the nation marks the 10th anniversary of its fall.

Krenz had been released on bail, pending his appeal, following his conviction on four specimen counts in August 1997.

Irony

At his appeal hearing, Krenz said it would be an "irony of history" if he were to spend the 10th anniversary of the opening of the wall behind bars.

He testified that he had been unable to influence the shoot-to-kill policy because East Germany had been a satellite of the former Soviet Union.

He also argued that a united Germany had no right to prosecute him for events that had happened in another country.

Krenz dismissed his treatment by the judicial system of the Federal Republic as "victor's justice".

And he said the real blame for the shootings along the border "death zone" lay with the superpowers fighting the Cold War.

Before the verdict was announced, Krenz said he would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights if his conviction was upheld.

Responsibility

Krenz took over as East German leader from his mentor, Erich Honecker, in October 1989. In a bid to bolster the regime in the face of mass protests, he decided to open the wall three weeks later on 9 November.

He was ousted by the party a few weeks later. East Germany joined West Germany the following year.

Schabowski, who had announced the surprise opening of the checkpoints, has since accepted his "moral" responsibility for the shootings and expressed remorse.

Spectators waiting to hear the verdict included former East German Defence Minister Heinz Kessler, the highest ranking East German official jailed so far for upholding the shoot-to-kill policy.

Kessler served four-and-a-half years of a seven-and-a-half year sentence for incitement to manslaughter.

Bush visit

The ruling came on the day former US President George Bush was made an honorary citizen of Berlin, as part of celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The celebrations on Tuesday 9 November will be attended by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the current head of government Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr Bush, Mr Gorbachev and Mr Kohl are due to take part in a public debate on Monday entitled "How it really was" on what was one of the pivotal moments of the end of the Cold War.



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