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From Associated Press via Yahoo

Monday November 8 8:09 AM ET

Conviction of E. German Chief Upheld

Associated Press Writer

AP Photo
AP Photo

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) - Germany's highest appeals court upheld manslaughter convictions today against East Germany's last communist leader and two former colleagues for the shooting deaths of people trying to flee to the West.

Egon Krenz and two former colleagues in the ruling East German Politburo, Guenther Kleiber and Guenter Schabowski, had asked the court to overturn their 1997 manslaughter convictions and sentences.

The ruling by Germany's highest federal appeals court, a day before the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, upholds a 6 1/2-year sentence against Krenz and three-year sentences against Kleiber and Schabowski.

Nearly 1,000 people were killed trying to cross the barrier and the heavily fortified border to West Germany after the wall went up in 1961.

Krenz led East Germany for six weeks during the turbulent autumn of 1989 and earlier was a top official in the communist regime.

He has branded his trial victor's justice and argued united Germany has no right to prosecute him for events that happened in another country.

During his appeal trial, he testified that he was unable to influence the shoot-to-kill border policy because East Germany was a satellite of the former Soviet Union.

Krenz has said he would take his case to the European Court of Justice if the conviction were upheld.

All three men have been free pending appeals.

Since unification in 1990, hundreds of former East German border guards and officials have been convicted on charges related to shooting those trying to flee to the West.

On Tuesday, three former members of the dreaded East German secret police, the Stasi, were scheduled to go on trial in the northern city of Schwerin on charges of shooting a man at the border in 1976.

The man, a former East German, had approached from the West German side at night and tried to dismantle one of the automatically triggered guns East Germany had set up along the border to deter its citizens from fleeing.

Among the courtroom spectators who waited to hear the verdict was former East German Defense Minister Heinz Kessler, the highest-ranking East German official jailed so far for upholding the shoot-to-kill policy at the border. Kessler served 4 1/2 years of a 7 1/2-year sentence on charges of incitement to manslaughter.