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Europe: Kohl backs buying of Eurofighter

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government yesterday gave the green light for Germany to buy the controversial Eurofighter combat jet and said it was confident parliament would back its decision.

Volker Ruehe, the defence minister, said after a cabinet meeting that ministers had approved his plan to buy 180 Eurofighters at a total cost of 23 billion marks (pounds 8.5bn).

Mr Ruehe said the project was vital for Germany's defence and offered the best in price and capability. "No other aircraft offers better value for money. The only planes that are cheaper are inferior."

Britain, which partners Germany in the project with Italy and Spain, said it was delighted although the German lower house must still vote to approve the purchase in November. Thousands of British defence jobs were safeguarded by the German decision. George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, described it as "a solid vote of confidence."

Bonn wants to bring the Eurofighter into service after 2002 to phase out its ageing Phantom jet force, but has struggled to raise funding as it tries to cut back borrowing to qualify for Europe's single currency.The project brings together DASA of Germany, British Aerospace Plc, Alenia Spa of Italy and state-owned CASA of Spain.

Mr Ruehe added he was confident the Bundestag would back the Eurofighter with a big majority. The cabinet decision will now be reviewed by the budget and defence committees.