- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2001

FRANKFURT, Germany Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was forced to defend his own radical past yesterday during the trial of a former leftist who turned terrorist and is now charged with murder.

In two hours of testimony, Mr. Fischer drew a firm line between the political militancy he practiced and never denied and the armed violence his friend took up.

"Armed attacks … where people think, 'We will kill to create conditions for freedom.' For me, that was too much," Mr. Fischer said.

Mr. Fischer was called as a character witness in the trial of Hans-Joachim Klein, a street fighter on trial for murder in the 1975 attack on a conference of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna, Austria. But most of the session focused on Mr. Fischer.

While he could have given testimony in closed session, the foreign minister agreed to come to Frankfurt, the city where he once joined violent street protests by leftists who feared Germany was sliding toward the right during the 1970s.

Nearly three decades later, about 150 officers were deployed for Mr. Fischer's security and a police helicopter flew overhead.

In the weeks leading up to his testimony, Mr. Fischer's militant past had been the subject of intense partisan debate, with opposition leaders calling for his resignation.

Yesterday's testimony did little to diffuse the furor.

Conservatives accused Mr. Fischer of not being forthcoming enough and pledged to review his testimony for inconsistencies. The conservative opposition in parliament said it would put Mr. Fischer back in the hot seat during an open session today.

The liberal Free Democrats said they may yet call for a parliamentary hearing to investigate Mr. Fischer's past.

The resignation calls have centered on photos published recently showing a young Mr. Fischer as part of a group beating a police officer to the ground.

"What we did then was wrong," Mr. Fischer said in court. He has apologized to the officer and plans to meet him.

But he adamantly denied that he ever advocated the use of weapons.

Mr. Fischer's testimony attempted to put the violence in the context of the political climate of the 1970s, when fears grew among young Germans that a police state was forming in the mold of the Nazi regime.

He referred to the killing of another young radical as the point when he felt German authorities had broken with democratic justice and appeared to be sliding back toward its Nazi past.

"That led us to the point where we thought, 'We have to defend ourselves,' " Mr. Fischer said.

Throughout the testimony, Mr. Fischer was sympathetic toward Mr. Klein, but he said he had few memories of Mr. Klein's activities in the scene. He said he could not recall the last time he had seen Mr. Klein before the OPEC attack, which occurred on Dec. 21, 1975.

Mr. Klein is charged with three counts of murder and three of attempted murder in the attack. Mr. Klein denies shooting any of those slain an OPEC employee, an Iraqi bodyguard and an Austrian policeman.


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