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1989: East Germany leader ousted

The Communist leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, has been forced to step down as leader of the country.

After 18 years in power he will be replaced by Egon Krenz, currently the head of internal and external security for the Politburo.

The official reason for his departure is said to be "ill health" but failure to deal with the tide of discontentment sweeping the country and the party is thought to be the real reason.

Up to 120,000 people marched in Leipzig on Monday to protest against a lack of political reforms and thousands of people are continuing to leave the country in search of better opportunities.

"We were dying on our feet under Honecker"

Student Steffi Muller

The recent visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is also being seen as a contributing factor to the downfall of Mr Honecker.

The Soviet leader was highly critical of the East German leadership saying there was a need for people to feel involved with their country and to have their opinions taken seriously.

The placement of Mr Krenz is being seen by the opposition as a change of tactics rather than a change of direction.

The banned opposition movement New Forum said: "Krenz's appointment shows the Communist party has no intention of sharing power. Reform under him is unlikely."

A decade's grooming

Mr Krenz, who at 55 is the youngest member of the Politburo, has been groomed to take over for more than a decade by Mr Honecker.

The news has so far received mixed reactions.

Student Steffi Muller, referring to the official announcement that "health reasons" were the cause for the departure said: "They were really referring to the health of the country - we were dying on our feet under Honecker."

Rainer Eppelmann, an East Berlin vicar said: "Krenz must show that he has the will to change things, and not only cosmetically."

Mr Honecker was expected to retire next year, following the country's 40th anniversary celebrations.

In Context
In November 1989, in a bid to bolster the political regime, the Berlin Wall, set up under the personal supervision of Erich Honecker, was torn down on the orders of Egon Krenz.

It was not enough to stop people leaving East Germany and on 3 October 1990 the two Germanys merged to form a new united country.

A new administration took over in the reunified Germany, led by Helmut Kohl.

In 1990 Mr Honecker was charged with high treason, abuses of power and corruption.

Proceedings against him were suspended, due to his ill health, and he was allowed to go into exile in Chile where he died in 1994.

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