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Surveillance

Berlin's NSA inquiry loses chairman

A dispute in Berlin about whether to seek testimony from NSA leaker Edward Snowden has prompted a senior conservative to quit as chairman of a new German parliamentary inquiry.

Clemens Binninger of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, who was due to head a high-profile German parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA), resigned as committee chairman suddenly on Wednesday.

In a written statement, Binninger complained that the opposition Greens and Left party were "exclusively" focused on obtaining testimony from Snowden, the former NSA analyst, who currently has temporary asylum in Moscow.

That had made a cross-party probe by the eight-member inquiry committee impossible, Binninger said.

"A committee of inquiry should not primarily serve party-political ends," he said.

A spokesman for Merkel's conservative parliamentary group said another Christian Democrat (CDU) parliamentarian Patrick Sensburg would take over as chairman of the inquiry committee which was only formed last week.

Pressure applied by NSA?

Veteran Greens parliamentary Christian Ströbele, who caused a sensation last year by visiting Snowden in Moscow, said he suspected that the NSA has put pressure on Binninger to hinder public testimony from Snowden.

Merkel, who has an invitation to visit Washington in May from US President Barack Obama, has so far rebuffed all appeals from center-left circles within Germany to offer asylum to Snowden.

The German inquiry would have authority to ask German intelligence agencies what they knew about the scope of spying on German communications by the US and its allies, including the alleged monitoring of Merkel's cell phone.

American surveillance escalated in the wake of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. by al-Qaeda hijackers.

Limited powers

Last year, Binninger argued that the inquiry committee would not have powers to examine American documents, witnesses and senior officials.

All four parties in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, agreed to launch the inquiry.

Last year, Binninger jointly chaired another parliament inquiry into the failure of police authorities to expose a series of neo-Nazi murders between 2000 and 2007.

ipj/mz (AP. dpa, Reuters)

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