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German Greens Back NATO Airstrikes

May 13, 1999

BIELEFELD, Germany (AP) _ Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer won backing for continued NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia on Thursday at an emotionally charged congress of his Green party that had threatened to break up Germany’s governing coalition.

After a tumultuous, daylong special congress, delegates voted 444-318 for a motion backed by Fischer and the party’s national executive that says it was ``extremely doubtful″ that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ``would be ready to negotiate without facing pressure.″

In a bow to widespread pacifist sentiment that has split the party _ Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s junior coalition partner _ the motion also urges NATO to declare a temporary suspension of the bombing to see if Milosevic is ready to end his forces’ campaign against Kosovo Albanians and start a troop withdrawal.

Despite some criticism of the NATO bombing, Greens leaders had said before the congress that the motion would allow Fischer enough leeway to continue his policy within the government.

A visibly relieved Fischer was congratulated by party leaders on the stage. In a brief statement directed at those from the party’s pacifist wing who voted against the motion, he promised to work ``more than ever″ to represent the ``entire spectrum″ of the party in his post.

Before the vote, Fischer had pleaded passionately with the delegates at the special party congress to back NATO’s fight for Kosovo and avert a possible breakup of Germany’s governing coalition.

Splattered with blood-red paint thrown by an anti-war protester, Fischer warned that pacifist motions for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire would send ``the completely wrong signal″ to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Hinting he would resign, he warned delegates: ``I would not implement that if you pass it.″

``I plead with you to help me and give me your support _ and not cut me off at the knees _ so I can emerge from this congress strengthened and can continue our policy,″ Fischer shouted above jeers, whistles and shouts of ``war criminal″ from peace activists.

Shortly before his speech, Fischer was hit in the face by a mixture of paint and foul-smelling butyric acid from a leftist demonstrator as he sat on the dais, while another protester paraded in front of the stage naked.

Stunned and furious, Fischer wiped himself off with a hastily fetched toilet roll of paper as guards expelled the protesters.

After his speech, he went to a hospital to have his ear cleaned and was treated for a perforated eardrum, said party spokeswoman Donate Hochstein. He returned to the congress, held in a sports hall, about an hour later, having also replaced his paint-soaked jacket.

Schroeder and Fischer have staunchly defended NATO’s aim of bombing Milosevic into accepting an international force to secure the return of Kosovo refugees.

Fischer, himself a peace activist in the 1970s and ’80s, has warned his party that backing the pacifist stand would likely force the chancellor to seek another coalition partner, ending the Greens’ first stint in a federal governing coalition after only six months.

The Greens were founded in 1980 by peace activists and environmentalists. While some, like Fischer, have become more pragmatic, many Greens members remain anti-war and object to Germany’s first combat mission since World War II. Hours of emotional debate Thursday exposed the battle over the party’s soul.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a French Green and Fischer ally, told delegates that giving in to Milosevic would be ``cowardice.″ Party co-chairwoman Antje Radcke appealed to delegates not to play ``Russian roulette″ with the coalition.

Pacifists called NATO airstrikes a mistake, attacking the ``spiral of escalation″ and increasing hits on civilian targets.

``After seven weeks, I must ask what this war has achieved,″ said Annelie Buntenbach, a leader of the anti-war camp.

Leftist peace protesters disrupted the one-day congress from the start, blocking entrances to the hall with human chains while chanting slogans and waving pictures of Schroeder and Fischer with Hitler mustaches. Some 50 Yugoslavs holding Serb flags mingled with the mainly young German peace activists at police barriers.

Police moved in with nightsticks after some demonstrators began throwing eggs and other objects. Police said 57 demonstrators were arrested; four people suffered minor injuries, including two police officers.

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