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A One-Two Punch Rattles Germany

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THE WEST’S LONGEST-SERVING FOREIGN MINISTER called it quits last week. Hans- Dietrich Genscher, 65, announced that he would leave office on May 17, the 18th anniversary of his ascent to the job — but he offered no compelling explanation. There was no mention of health problems, although he has a history of coronary trouble and tuberculosis. He did not hint at a falling-out with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, although over the years they have had many disagreements. And he disavowed interest in another high-profile post, although rumors are rife that he longs to cap his political career with the German presidency. Some analysts reasoned that Genscher, Germany’s most popular and peripatetic politician, knew he had shepherded his projects of European integration and East-West rapprochement as far as they could go. With the days of checkbook diplomacy ending for a nation strapped by the costs of unity, this was Genscher’s chance to go out on top.

, The surprise resignation of the man who had championed German unification triggered an embarrassing row that highlighted the disunity within the ruling coalition. The leadership of Genscher’s Free Democrats, who are junior members of the three-party coalition, announced that Housing Minister Irmgard Schwaetzer would take over as Foreign Minister. Instead of rubber-stamping the appointment, a caucus of Free Democrats in the parliament rejected Schwaetzer and designated Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel. Members of the Christian Social Union, Kohl’s other coalition partner, were so miffed at not being consulted about Genscher’s replacement that they demanded a full Cabinet shuffle to restore confidence in the government.

Already overwhelmed by immigration problems and the runaway costs of unification, Kohl appeared to be losing control. The impression was reinforced by one of the worst waves of labor unrest in the postwar era. The strikes began early last week in the public sector, with transit, garbage, mail and hospital workers walking off their job in many cities around western Germany. Engineering and metal-industry workers followed, staging work stoppages and threatening a full-scale strike if their demands were not met. The issue is pay raises, and workers and employers remain far apart. The unrest, it would seem, has only just begun.

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