Germany faces motoring tax to pay for unification

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The Independent Online
THE GERMAN Transport Minister, Gunther Krause, announced yesterday that the cost of motoring would rise by up to 30 per cent in the coming years, provoking strong attacks from the opposition. Mr Krause said he hoped to see an increase in petrol and domestic oil taxes in the autumn and, Brussels permitting, a motorway toll for goods vehicles next year. This could be followed later by a similar duty for cars.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) accused Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre-right coalition of 'simply casting round for ways to plug the holes in its budget'. The government has already been under attack for breaking its pledge not to raise taxes in order to meet the rapidly growing costs of unification. Last year Mr Kohl's government substantially raised taxes on petrol and oil as part of a wide-ranging revenue- raising package, leading to a sharp drop in its popularity.

According to the Transport Minister, the additional money is needed for the planned financial reform, and eventual privatisation, of the German state railways. But the proposals have sharply increased public scepticism about the government's pledges that taxes will not be raised again. As recently as 31 March, Mr Kohl said that 'this is no time for further burdens'.

Inside the coalition there are growing numbers of parliamentarians who express private doubt as to whether the Finance Minister, Theo Waigel, will be able to stick to his no-tax line, given the combination of a much higher than expected drain on western resources caused by unification and the persistent failure of the eastern German economy to show any signs of a sustained recovery.

Mr Waigel has appealed to western Germans to show solidarity by making private donations for eastern Germany, pledging money for restoring buildings or equipping hospitals and schools. In a scarcely veiled threat he said: 'If growth in the private sector can be secured by such means, then the state will be able to finance reunification without having to resort to further tax and duty increases.'

BERLIN - Stefan Heym, the 79-year-old east German author, plans to bring charges against a man who, apparently out of political motives, attacked him in the restaurant of a Cologne hotel on Sunday night, writes Adrian Bridge.

The attack, which was reported by Cologne police yesterday, left Mr Heym with lacerations underneath his left eye for which he needed to be treated in hospital. His assailant, who fled from the luxurious Dom Hotel before he could be captured, had insulted Mr Heym over his support for a new movement designed to protect the interests of east Germans which was launched over the weekend.

After describing the movement's backers as 'filthy swine' and a 'bunch of criminals', the man said that Mr Heym deserved to have his 'skull smashed in', and then punched him in the face. According to two companions, the attacker lives in the United States, but has a German name.

Gregor Gysi, leader of east Germany's reformed PDS communist party and a fellow supporter of the movement, said he had been 'disgusted' to hear of the incident. 'A country in which writers can be attacked in this way engenders feelings of danger, fear and disquiet,' he said.