Judges rule that German army can use force

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Germany took a tentative step in moving on from its troubled military past yesterday as it relaxed the rules for its tightly controlled army.

The ruling by Germany's top court means that the government can now call upon the army to use force inside the country, but only in exceptional cases and as a last resort. The use of the military has been heavily restricted because of Germany's history of militarism, particularly under Adolf Hitler.

Previously, the government could mobilise the army to support law enforcement authorities, but the use of military force inside Germany was forbidden. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled in a majority decision that the army can use force but "only in exceptional situation of catastrophic proportions". Judges specifically excluded demonstrations as a possible reason for military force.

The court's decision didn't change a 2006 ruling that the shooting down of hijacked aircraft is illegal. The government had wanted to allow the military to fire at planes being used as terrorist weapons. Judges said this breached the right to life of passengers and crew.