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Germany

German political debate rages over latest NSA spying allegations

Allegations that a US intelligence service tapped into Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile telephone continue to dominate political discussion in Germany. The issue could come up in negotiations to form a new government.

Horst Seehofer, the head of the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, called on Friday for the issue of data protection to be included in coalition talks between their conservative bloc and the Social Democrats.

"This definitely needs to be in the coalition agreement as one of the most urgent talks of the grand coalition," Seehofer said in the Friday edition of the Munich-based Süddeutsche newspaper.

He added, that the future government must take every possible step to ensure that the personal communications data of German citizens were secure.

"Anyone who will spy on a chancellor wil also spy on the Bundeswehr, on private industry, and private citizens," Seehofer said.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who following a trip to Washington in the summer had defended the practise of conducting surveillance as a means of preventing terrorist attacks, called on Washington to come clean on allegations that the National Security Agency had tapped into Chancellor Merkel's cell phone.

Friedrich, who had travelled to Washington in the wake of a previous NSA snooping scandal, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that if the US agency really had spied on the chancellor, it would amount to a “major infringement of the sovereignty of our country and a breach of trust.”

Merkel plays down vulnerability

Despite the outrage over the allegations, Chancellor Merkel seemed to play down the usefulness of tapping into her mobile phone conversations.

"I have a ….consistent logic in my conversations," the chancellor told reporters on the fringes of the EU summit in Brussels late on Friday. "This is why I believe that everyone who talks to me will in principle hear the same thing."

On Wednesday, shortly after the story that the NSA may have tapped into her phone first broke, the chancellor did, however call up US President Barack Obama to demand an explanation. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle took the unususal diplomatic step of summoning the US ambassador to Germany.

Opposition demands

The opposition Greens party, meanwhile, has called for the Bundestag parliament, which held a brief inauguration session on Tuesday, to be recalled especially to debate the issue even though formal coalition talks aimed at forming a new post-election government began only this week in Berlin

.

"I now want to know what really happened," the Greens' parliamentary floor leader, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Friday.

Among the issues that needed clarity, she said, was what German intelligence services knew about the US surveillance activities and when. Parliament she said, needed to debate what the consequences should be if the allegations of NSA spying were confirmed.

"I can't imagine that we will contently continue negotiations towards the free-trade agreement (between the European Union and the United States)," she said.

The Green Party's intelligence services critic, Hans-Christian Ströbele accused the chancellor of a “submissive attitude” towards the United States, and called on Germany to offer asylum or at least witness protection to American spying whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Over the past few months, Snowden, a firmer CIA employee and NSA subcontractor, has leaked numerous secret documents shedding light on previously little or unknown US surveillance tactics abroad. US authorities have demanded that he be extradicted so that they can put him on trial on a series of criminal charges. Russia, which has granted him temporary asylum, has refused to comply.

pfd/ipj Reuters (Reuters, dpa)