Merkel ally accused of covering up fatal air strike resigns

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The Independent Online

A senior ally of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, quit the cabinet yesterday after being accused of covering up details of an air strike that killed civilians in Afghanistan when he was Defence Minister.

The resignation of Franz Josef Jung, who was pilloried for failing to come clean about the 4 September air strike called in by German forces, was an embarrassing setback for Ms Merkel just one month into her second term.

Mr Jung said he would quit as Labour Minister a day after it was announced that the head of Germany's armed forces and a former deputy defence minister were stepping down over the air strike that the Afghan government say killed 69 Taliban and 30 civilians.

The demise of Mr Jung caps a testing month for Ms Merkel, who has had to contend with the carmaker General Motors' decision to reject Berlin's plans for Opel, as well as disputes within her new coalition over German-Polish relations and planned tax cuts.

German soldiers called in a US warplane to carry out the raid in Kunduz.

Mr Jung, a member of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), had repeatedly denied that civilians were killed in the attack. On Thursday he admitted to parliament that he had known for weeks of the existence of a military report that pointed to civilian deaths. But he said he had had no "concrete knowledge" of its contents because it had been passed to Nato.

His testimony was watched by a frowning Ms Merkel, who is working to extend a mandate for Germany's 4,250 troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Jung announced he was stepping down in a terse statement at his ministry. "I hereby assume the political responsibility for the internal communication policy of the defence ministry," he said.

Mr Jung's removal may not spare Ms Merkel further embarrassment on the civilian deaths, as opposition parties have said they will order a parliamentary investigation into the air strike.

The German parliament is expected to renew a mandate next week which allows the government to deploy up to 4,500 in the country.

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