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International Relations

German President Gauck dismisses Greek reparation demands for Nazi crimes

President Joachim Gauck acknowledged Germany's "moral debt" for the killings of Greek civilians by Nazi soldiers during World War Two. But he reiterated Berlin's refusal to discuss fresh reparation payments.

Joachim Gauck made his remarks following a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Carolos Papoulias, on Thursday in Athens.

The Greek government last year revived a demand for war reparations. It was acting under opposition and media pressure which had built up in the context of mounting resentment of Germany in connection with its role in combating Greece's ongoing economic crisis.

Painful austerity measures were implemented in Greece, which led to a dramatic rise in unemployment in the country.

The measures were part of an international bailout package. Germany is the strongest economy in the Euro bloc and has been blamed by many Greek people for its uncompromising stance on the need for austerity.

The shadow of history

Last year, several groups representing Greek war victims reiterated their demands for reparations, and put for a figure of 162 billion euros ($222 billion), which would equal half Greece's total government debt.

Germany believes it settled the reparation issue in 1960, when it complied with compensation agreements made with several European governments, and paid 115 million Deutschmarks (60 million euros) as compensation to Greece.

The Greek government claimed it had always considered that money as only an initial payment, with the rest of its claims to be discussed after German reunification, which eventually came in 1990.

German President Joachim Gauck on Thursday acknowledged that Germany had a moral debt for people being massacred by Nazi soldiers during their campaign against guerrilla fighters. He offered to set up a new "Future Fund" to remind Germans of their past, but declined to give details on the size of the fund and what exactly it would finance.

"It will dispose substantial sums to make Germans confront that part of their past," he said.

More tricky meetings

The German President, who is the head of state with a largely ceremonial post, has a taxing itinerary on his three-day state visit.

On Friday afternoon, he will pay his respects to people in the northern village of Lingiades, where 92 people were executed in 1942 by the German occupying forces.

Gauck to visit Greek WWII massacre site

He will also meet with members of the Jewish community, which has taken Germany to the European Court of Human Rights to demand compensation.

The community claims to have paid the equivalent of 45 million euros to Nazi forces in 1942, to secure the release of 10,000 Jewish men submitted to forced labor.

Although security measures had been stepped up surrounding the German president's visit, Greek riot police on Thursday used tear gas, pepper spray and batons in scuffles against anti-austerity protesters who had taken to the streets of Athens, despite a partial ban on demonstrations inthe capital.

rg/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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