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German interior minister proposes domestic security shake-up

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/01/2017
Candles and flowers to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack on 19 December 2016 have been placed at the Christmas market near the Memorial Church in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. ( Jens Kalaene/dpa via AP) © The Associated Press Candles and flowers to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack on 19 December 2016 have been placed at the Christmas market near the Memorial Church in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. ( Jens Kalaene/dpa via AP)

BERLIN — Germany's interior minister is proposing a security shake-up that could include creating "federal departure centers" to ease the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers and centralizing the country's domestic intelligence agency.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere's suggestions in a guest article Tuesday in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung followed last month's attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

The government has promised to examine whether laws need to be changed following the Dec. 19 attack that killed 12 people. A failed Tunisian asylum-seeker is the prime suspect. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The proposals from de Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party, center on giving federal authorities greater power on domestic security issues — responsibility for which is spread between the federal government and 16 state governments.

Deportations are now the responsibility of state authorities. De Maiziere called for better cooperation, suggesting federally run "departure centers" close to airports that could handle deportees in their "final days or weeks" in Germany.

Each state has its own branch of the domestic intelligence agency, in addition to its federal office. De Maiziere called for a discussion of putting it entirely under federal control, and also urged greater powers for the federal police to conduct traffic controls away from border areas.

At European Union level, de Maiziere advocated a "real mass-influx mechanism" to enable quicker handling of large numbers of migrants. He argued that countries should be considered safe if there's a "safe place" there with "humane and safe reception conditions," for example at facilities for which the EU could be partly responsible.

It's unclear how much traction de Maiziere's ideas will gain. A national election is expected in September and the conservatives' main rivals, the center-left Social Democrats, are part of the current governing coalition. Germany's states, regardless of political color, are reluctant to give up powers.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrats' leader, questioned the wisdom of concentrating now on a major security restructuring.

He said he was concerned that "if we started with this, security authorities would be preoccupied with themselves for a few years rather than hunting criminals and terrorists."

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