Thursday, 7 July 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Comes Under Fire For Saudi Tank Deal


Germany's centre-right coalition on Tuesday came under increasing fire from both the opposition and Angela Merkel's own conservatives for a controversial arms deal to supply 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia despite its questionable human rights record.

News agency Reuters reported that most of the parliamentary leadership of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) raised objections to the sale at a meeting on Monday. The environmentalist Greens planned to raise the issue in the Bundestag on Tuesday.

News magazine Der Spiegel reported at the weekend that the German government had given the green light to the sale of Leopard 2 battle tanks, which would reap more than €1 billion for the country’s arms industry but reverse its long-held policy not to supply heavy weaponry to the Arab kingdom.

Reuters reported that key members of the party’s parliamentary group raised vocal concerns, including the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, Ruprecht Polenz, Bundestag president Norbert Lammert and the party’s human rights expert Erika Steinbach.

They argued that breaches of human rights by Saudi Arabia raised questions about the sale. Lammert pointed out Saudi Arabia had recently deployed tanks to help suppress the anti-government protests in neighbouring Bahrain.

Concerns about Israel's safety have also been expressed.

The Greens’ parliamentary leader, Jürgen Trittin, said the supply of tanks to the autocratic regime would breach the tradition of Germany’s Middle East policy.

“Such equipment is not usually supplied to such areas,” Trittin told public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday morning.

Saudi Arabia had only recently been involved in “steamrolling” the pro-democracy movement in the gulf state of Bahrain, he added. On top of additional arms supplies to Algeria valued at about €10 billion, the government was entering dangerous new territory. “It shows that there is no red line any longer for the federal government in Middle East policy,” Trittin said.

Der Spiegel reported that the deal had been approved by the government’s Security Council, a cabinet group made up of the chancellor and key ministers and which examines all major arms deals. The government has so far declined to comment.

Reuters also reported that Saudia Arabia has already purchased 44 battle tanks from Germany.

Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) has also raised concerns. The party’s defence expert, Elke Hoff, told broadcaster ARD: "They may do it. The question is whether it is accompanied by the necessary political sensitivity and how it is received by the public."

At an emergency debate in the Bundestag, the German government has refused to explain allegations that it approved a tank deal with Saudi Arabia. The opposition accused Berlin of supporting repression in the Middle East.

Facing the German parliament on Wednesday, Hans-Joachim Otto, the state secretary for Germany's economics ministry, defended Germany's business alliance with Saudi Arabia amid media reports that Berlin approved the sale of 200 Leopard tanks to the Gulf State

Merkel's government refuses to comment on matters discussed confidentially within the federal security council which determines export guidelines. For 20 years, Germany has not exported heavy weapons - including tanks - to Saudi Arabia, due to concerns over its repression of its own citizens.

A Saudi security source confirmed the deal earlier in the week, saying 44 of the 200 tanks ordered had already been bought.

The source declined to give a value for the purchase, saying it was a multi-billion euro deal involving the German companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall. KMW declined comment on the deal but said it was "not aware of any changes to trade regulations covering military exports."

The purchase follows a $93 billion stimulus package from Saudi King Abdullah in March to beef up police and security forces in response to unrest sweeping through the Arab world.

Germany's opposition has accused Merkel's cabinet of hypocrisy, charging that Berlin - which publicly supports the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements - shouldn't be sending battle tanks to a country that used tanks to help Bahrain quell anti-regime demonstrations in March.

Outside the Bundestag on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters held up banners recalling dictatorships that used tanks to crush activist movements. Using the examples of East Berlin, Prague, Beijing, and Damascus, demonstrators urged parliamentarians inside not to sell heavy weapons to regimes infamous for the repression of their own people.
The Local/djw/AFP