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Cabinet Resignations Push East Germany Deeper Into Political Quagmire

August 20, 1990

EAST BERLIN (AP) _ The man in charge of selling East Germany’s troubled factories and businesses resigned Monday after too few investors were willing to buy them.

The resignation of Reiner Gohlke became public just hours after Foreign Minister Markus Meckel also resigned. Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere said he would not replace Meckel but would himself assume the duties of the nation’s senior diplomat.

Meckel stepped down after his party, the Social Democrats, voted Sunday to leave de Maiziere’s foundering governing coalition. He was the fifth minister to leave the government in a week.

The huge fissures in the nation’s first freely elected government plunged it deeper into a crisis fueled by economic problems and ferocious battles among parties seeking to win elections for a united German government.

The political infighting has increasingly appalled a populace preoccupied with rising food and fuel prices and skyrocketing joblessness.

″I don’t even know what both parties want,″ said Thomas Wollenburg as he and his wife, Andrea, pushed their two young children in strollers to an unemployment office in East Berlin.

Wollenburg said he was among 50 workers laid off from his construction firm two weeks ago.

Both the conservative Christian Democrats of de Maiziere and of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and the left-leaning Social Democrats in both German states, accuse each other of using East Germany’s economic problems for political gain.

The Social Democrats voted to leave the coalition Sunday after de Maiziere fired four Cabinet members last week, including the agriculture, finance and economics ministers. The party contended that de Maiziere unilaterally fired the ministers to protect his own party’s political fortunes in the face of the economic problems.

The Social Democrats’ departure means that de Maiziere will not have the two-thirds majority in Parliament he needs to approve a treaty spelling out key details of how the united nation will deal with East Germany’s economy.

The treaty also would reconcile the differing laws of the two nations. West Germany has warned its laws may automatically be applied to East Germany if a treaty is not approved.

Gohlke, a West German who formerly led that nation’s rail system, stepped down just four weeks after he was appointed to dispose of East Germany’s 8,000 state-owned enterprises. The factories and businesses employ 6 million of the nation’s 8.8 million workers, but Gohlke has come under repeated criticism for failing to usher them into the private sector.

De Maiziere said the resignation was ″by no means a declaration of bankruptcy″ for the nation’s industrial sector, according to comments carried by the East German news agency ADN. Gohlke will be succeeded by Detlev Rohwedder, a West German industrialist.

Hans-Peter Krueger, an economist and the vice chancellor of East Berlin’s College of Economy, said the political battles have compounded East Germany’s problems. The failure of the German governments to decide how to distribute East German property has frightened off much of the Western investment needed to produce jobs as East German companies fail.

Much of the aid from West Germany also hasn’t been properly distributed to help factories and farms forced for the first time to compete with the West, he said.

″I think our current policies show a lot of incompetence,″ he said.

″This is a time when you need a coalition government,″ Krueger said. ″People are saying ’I’m losing my job, I’m losing my home, I don’t care about this other stuff.‴

There was little sympathy for either political faction at an East Berlin employment agency in the working class district of Lichtenburg.

Claudia Liefert, a job counselor at the employment bureau, said there is little discussion of politics among the steady stream of people who wait daily in the office. ″People have other things to worry about,″ she said.

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