January 24, 2018 / 4:10 PM / 7 months ago

Germany defends arms sales against 'depravity' accusation

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany defended its arms export policy on Wednesday in response to accusations of “moral depravity” after sales increased last year to countries beyond its European Union and NATO allies.

FILE PHOTO: Top candidate of the Die Linke party Dietmar Bartsch speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

Germany is the world’s third-biggest arms exporter, but weapons sales remain a domestically sensitive issue given the country’s World War Two history.

The debate has been further fuelled by a Turkish offensive in northern Syria in which Turkey, a NATO member, has been using German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

“That must be stopped,” Dietmar Bartsch, head of the radical Left’s parliamentary group, told broadcaster ARD, describing the government’s arms export policy as showing “moral depravity”.

German arms sales to so-called third countries - those beyond the EU and NATO - rose to 3.79 billion euros (£3.3 billion) in 2017 from 3.67 billion euros a year earlier.

Around 20 percent of last year’s third-country exports were accounted for by a warship sold to Algeria. In the past, Germany has also sold arms to Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The fact is: Germany supplies armaments. The fact is also: Germany has one of the most restrictive and toughest control systems worldwide,” an Economy Ministry spokeswoman told a regular government news conference.

The co-governing Social Democrats (SPD) have promised to place restrictions on sales of weapons to non-allied countries. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel - a former SPD leader - has pledged to impose more restrictions on export licenses, especially of light arms.

Gabriel called his Turkish counterpart on Monday to express concern about the possible impact on civilians of Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria.

He is under fire from opposition lawmakers and even members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives for failing to speak up earlier, and for moving towards approving Ankara’s request to have German arms maker Rheinmetall upgrade its German-built tanks.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Peter Graff

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