Fight to save Brandenburg leader

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POTSDAM - Eastern Germany's leading Social Democrats argued passionately yesterday against suggestions that a regional prime minster, accused of close contacts with the Stasi, should resign, writes Steve Crawshaw.

In an interview with the Independent Wolfgang Thierse, a deputy leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), said that 'guilt must first be proved'. He described as 'laughable' calls for the resignation of Manfred Stolpe, embattled SPD prime minister of the east German state of Brandenburg.

Mr Stolpe, who formerly played a leading role in the Church opposition, now heads a minority government in Brandenburg, following the collapse of the ruling coalition on Tuesday night, as a result of accusations against him.

Recent newspaper reports suggested that Mr Stolpe received a medal in 1978 for services to the East German state, at a Stasi safe-house. Mr Stolpe has repeatedly insisted that he received the medal elsewhere, and did not know that it came from the Stasi, the East German secret police. He now stands accused of lying to an investigative committee, with regard to his Stasi links.

The recent evidence against him includes an attendance register from the Stasi house, which states that 'Secretary' - Mr Stolpe's Stasi code-name - attended a meeting with two Stasi officers on the day in question, in November 1978.

Mr Stolpe has come to be known as the 'Teflon Man' because of his apparent ability to survive all damage to his reputation, despite embarrassing admissions in the past two years.

For some, enough is enough. Gunter Nooke, leader of the Alliance 90 parliamentary floor group, argued that Mr Stolpe had lied to the committee. This led to the formal collapse of the coalition.

Mr Stolpe has admitted having some Stasi contacts. But Mr Thierse insisted that the question was whether Mr Stolpe merely compromised, or deliberately harmed the opposition. 'The question is: did he work for the Stasi and against the Church?' There was no evidence, he said, to support such an interpretation.