German vice chancellor defends Schroeder over Russian pipeline job

Germany's vice chancellor strongly defended former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder against criticism for his involvement with a Russian-German gas pipeline project, insisting in comments published Tuesday that he should not quit the job.

Schroeder has faced calls from Germany's opposition to relinquish the chairmanship of the project, led by Russia's state-controlled Gazprom. Schroeder, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was a strong advocate of the plan while in office.

"What is going on here is downright hypocrisy a mixture of resentment, old open scores and narrow-mindedness on the part of the opposition," Vice Chancellor Franz Muentefering was quoted as telling the Bonn daily General-Anzeiger in its Wednesday edition.

"My advice to Gerhard Schroeder: don't give in. His involvement with Gazprom is good and important," he added. Asked whether Schroeder should step down as project chairman, he replied: "Under no circumstances."

Muentefering is the most senior member of Schroeder's Social Democrats in the new coalition government of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took over from Schroeder on Nov. 22.

Schroeder drew a barrage of criticism when he decided the following month to join the pipeline project, intended to secure Germany's natural gas supply. While Germany has no law that would have prevented him taking the chairmanship, critics have questioned his judgment.

Last week, Schroeder was formally appointed to the job and awarded a Ђ250,000 (US$300,000) salary. It then emerged that, in October, officials in the outgoing government approved a Ђ1 billion (US$1.2 billion) credit guarantee for the pipeline project.

Schroeder, who says he was not approached about the pipeline job until November, swiftly said he had not known of the guarantee and Gazprom had since given assurances that it would not take advantage of it, reports AP.


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