Germany's SPD leader set to resign today

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The Independent Online
THE German opposition leader Bjorn Engholm is expected by many in his own party to resign today after admitting that he repeatedly lied on an issue which has rumbled on in Germany for several years, and which has re- exploded in recent weeks.

Mr Engholm is due to meet the presidium of the Social Democrats, the SPD, in Bonn today and said that his next move would 'depend on whether I can convince my friends what an exceptional situation I found myself in'. Yesterday, however, there were broad hints from his SPD colleagues that an offer to resign would be welcome. Advisers to the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Bernhard Schroder, indicated that he would be ready to step into Mr Engholm's shoes.

Mr Engholm was accused in this week's Spiegel magazine of having lied about the date when he discovered the dirty tricks campaign conducted against him by his then electoral opponent, Uwe Barschel, in 1987. After publication of the latest article, Mr Engholm admitted its essential accuracy; until now, he has constantly dodged questions on the issue. One SPD deputy, after seeing the Spiegel article, said that if the allegations were true, it would be 'a catastrophe for Engholm'.

The tangled 'Barschel affair' dealt with the dirty tricks campaign against Mr Engholm which became public knowledge just before election day in September 1987. The revelation was a contributing factor in the election result: Mr Barschel lost to his SPD rival, who thus became prime minister of the north German region of Schleswig-Holstein. In the wake of the revelations, Mr Barschel committed suicide.

But, although the information was only released on the eve of polling day, information about the dirty tricks campaign had reached Mr Engholm's aides at a much earlier stage. It has become increasingly clear that Mr Engholm was also aware of what was happening - in effect, a counter-intelligence operation against Barschel. The affair has re-erupted in recent months.

In March, Der Spiegel asked: 'What did Engholm know?', with reference to the pounds 20,000 cash payments which Gunther Jansen, a close associate of Mr Engholm, had made to the CDU aide who tipped the wink on Mr Barschel's dirty-tricks.

The official SPD version- that these payments were the result of personal generosity by Mr Jansen to Reiner Pfeiffer, the Barschel aide-was widely received with incredulity and mockery.