Hopes are dashed of getting Honecker

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The Independent Online
THE SAGA over Erich Honecker reached new heights of absurdity at the weekend when Russian spokesmen said that, despite reports to the contrary, the former East German leader was not about to be forced out of hiding in the Chilean embassy in Moscow and returned to Germany to stand trial in connection with killings at the Berlin Wall.

According to Sergei Jastrzhembski, a Russian spokesman quoted in Bild am Sonntag newspaper, attempts to prise Mr Honecker out of the embassy foundered after Chile backtracked on an earlier promise that it would release him, insisting instead that he could only be taken following a judicial hearing in Russia. 'Chile wanted us, alone, to assume the responsibility (for Mr Honecker),' said Mr Jastrzhembski. 'Unless a miracle happens, the operation is off for a long time.'

Mr Honecker, charged in connection with at least 50 deaths at the Berlin Wall and the former inner-German border, took refuge in the Chilean embassy last December after it became clear that Russia was prepared to hand him back to Germany.

After months of tortuous negotiations, Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared last week that 'perceptible movement' had been made, raising hopes that the former Communist leader was on the brink of being returned.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Bonn said yesterday that despite this latest setback, talks aimed at securing Mr Honecker's return were still under way. 'Okay, it did not work as we had hoped this weekend, but we shall certainly carry on trying,' he said.

MOSCOW - A small group of men and women demonstrated in Mr Honecker's favour outside the Chilean embassy, waving small red flags and remonstrating with police and security guards to allow them to deliver a large bunch of deep red gladioli, Reuter reports.

'He is an old man. What is the point of locking him up for 10 years?' an elderly man asked.