Merkel rival attacks Germany's soaring arms exports

Sat Dec 22, 2012 9:23am EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - Peer Steinbrueck, set to challenge Angela Merkel as German leader next year, criticized her centre-right government on Saturday for letting arms exports surge and vowed to end that if his centre-left opposition wins power.

The former finance minister, nominated to lead the Social Democrats (SPD) into September's election against Merkel, said it was a scandal that Germany has become the world's third largest arms exporter on her watch.

Arms exports are a sensitive issue in Germany due to its Nazi past and the role arms makers such as Krupp played in stoking 19th and 20th century wars with exports to both sides.

After World War Two, successive West German and later united German governments placed tight restrictions on arms exports, especially to regions where there were armed conflicts or where human rights were poorly respected.

"It's a scandal and extremely dangerous that Germany has become the world's third largest exporter of weapons," Steinbrueck, who hopes to form a coalition with the Greens party, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Saturday.

"An SPD-Greens government led by me would change that," said Steinbrueck, 65. "We're even exporting weapons to regions in conflict and to areas where human rights aren't respected."

The SPD and Greens would win a combined 43 percent of the vote, according to an ARD TV opinion poll by the Infratest dimap institute published on Friday. That is more than Merkel's conservatives but not enough to form a majority coalition.

Merkel's conservatives would win 40 percent. Her Free Democrat (FDP) allies would win 4 percent, failing to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed for seats. The Left party would win 7 percent, according to the poll. If so, the SPD-Greens bloc would need 48 percent of votes to secure a parliamentary majority.   Continued...

Top candidate for the 2013 German general elections Peer Steinbrueck of the German Social Democratic Party addresses a news conference in Berlin December 12, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz