German regional minister sacked in row over riots

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The Independent Online
A German regional interior minister was sacked yesterday - five months after he condoned the xenophobic riots in the eastern German port of Rostock.

Lothar Kupfer, the interior minister of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania - one of 12 German Lander, or regions - had said that he felt 'a certain understanding' for the rioters, when the violence broke out last August. Police in Rostock had withdrawn during the riots, thus allowing extreme-right groups to set fire to foreigners' hostels unhindered.

Mr Kupfer, a member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party, the Christian Democrats, had ignored growing calls for his resignation in recent weeks. But Mecklenburg's Prime Minister, Berndt Seite, agreed to dismiss him, after the opposition in parliament - impatient that Mr Kupfer seemed determined to stay - began to demand that Mr Seite himself should go. The opposition Social Democrats in Mecklenburg yesterday described Mr Kupfer's departure as 'long overdue'.

Mr Kupfer's replacement is due to be announced today. But Mr Seite said yesterday that Mr Kupfer's successor would come from the west, which may be a bad omen. One name mentioned was that of Rudi Geil, the Interior Minister of the western German region of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Any 'Wessi' is likely to be given a lukewarm welcome. One important source of resentment in eastern Germany today is the perception that westerners take over all the important jobs, and that easterners are regarded as either irrelevant or incompetent. A mere sense of public relations might have suggested that a local candidate would be more appropriate.

For four days in August 1992, gangs went on the rampage, and set fire to foreigners' hostels in Rostock. Mr Kupfer denied any knowledge of the police decision to withdraw - which allowed gangs to torch a hostel with Vietnamese people living in it. But it subsequently became clear that he had held regular discussions with the police, and had even come to Rostock while the riots were taking place.

Mr Kupfer emphasised after the riots were over that 'not a hair had been hurt', among the Vietnamese. Dozens of Vietnamese had only escaped from their blazing hostel by chance.

Some argued yesterday that the sacking of Mr Kupfer was inappropriate, because he was - in the words of the Christian Democrat parliamentary leader in Mecklenburg - an 'inexperienced eastern politician', who was being measured 'by western standards'. Many within Mr Kupfer's party seemed glad, however, to see him go. He had become an increasing embarrassment.

More extreme-right violence was reported yesterday. An Indian visitor to Mecklenburg was beaten unconscious. In the town of Wrangelsburg, in Mecklenburg, petrol was poured through a broken window into a hostel for asylum-seekers, and the building was set on fire. There was also a fire in a hostel in Schwerte, in the west German region of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Seventeen people were killed in far-right violence last year. Government officials say the violence has decreased in recent months.