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Germany's Fischer under investigation

Questions linger over Fischer's links to a former radical sympathiser  

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Prosecutors have formally opened an investigation into German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for alleged perjury.

The Frankfurt prosecutor's office said in a statement that it had informed the speaker of the German parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, in a letter of its intention to open the inquiry.

Fischer, who flew to the U.S. on Monday for a meeting with new U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, is alleged to have lied during the murder trial of terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein.

Klein was jailed for nine years on Thursday on murder and attempted murder charges for his part in an attack and hostage-taking operation at an OPEC conference in Vienna in 1974.

The foreign minister had said on January 16, as a character witness, that he had never had contact or relations with the terrorist Red Army Faction (RAF).

But his evidence was contradicted by former RAF sympathiser Margrit Schiller in her 1999 biography.

Schiller, who now lives in Uruguay, said she had stayed at a shared house in Frankfurt with Fischer, breakfasted with him and later went out to the pubs in the city.

Fischer afterwards said he may have met Schiller for breakfast when he stayed at a shared flat in the same building.

Prosecutors have already asked the German Parliament, the Bundestag, for permission to go ahead with the probe.

Further permission would be required for any prosecution to start. Perjury carries a jail term of up to five years in Germany.

Fischer still popular

Fischer has made no secret of his radical past and remains one of Germany's most popular politicians.

But he has come under fire from opposition members of parliament who are calling for his resignation.

A leader of the conservative opposition in parliament, Peter Ramsauer, called on Fischer to go on leave until the probe is finished, while Bavarian state premier Edmund Stoiber said the minister would have to quit if it was proved he lied.

"Fischer should temporarily leave office until it is determined whether he had ties to terrorists, and if so what," Bild newspaper quoted Ramsauer as saying on Saturday.

Stoiber, a potential challenger to Schroeder in the next election in late 2002, said Fischer would have to go if it turned out he had lied in court.

"If it is proven he gave false testimony then he would no longer be acceptable as a member of the government," he said.

As a government minister, Fischer, 52, has immunity from prosecution and the Bundestag would have to grant its approval for any legal investigation to begin.

Fischer insisted late on Friday that he had no reason to resign his posts as foreign minister and deputy chancellor, an action that commentators said would cripple Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's centre-left government two years before the next election.

Pressure grows on Fischer to quit
February 17, 2001
Fischer faces perjury inquiry
February 16, 2001
Jackal accomplice jailed
February 15, 2001
Fischer testifies at kidnap trial
January 16, 2001
Fischer: Past no bearing on present
January 16, 2001

German Courts
German Federal Courts
US Department of State

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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