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Gorbachev Visit Triggered Honecker’s Ouster, Former Aid Says

December 27, 1989

EAST BERLIN (AP) _ Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s attempts in October to convince Erich Honecker to abandon Stalinism helped topple the East Germany leader, a former Honecker aide was quoted as saying Wednesday.

Gorbachev visited Honecker in East Berlin on Oct. 7-8 for celebrations marking East Germany’s 40th anniversary of statehood. His visit came as a fledgling pro-democracy movement was growing in strength.

In an interview with the newspaper Junge Welt, former Parliament speaker Horst Sindermann said that Gorbachev tried to convince the Communist Party chief to pursue reform, and that Honecker resisted.

″The realization that Honecker must go was growing all the time. The last push came from Gorbachev’s visit for the 40th anniversary,″ Sindermann was quoted as saying.

Sindermann’s interview was the first insight into the power struggle that preceded Honecker’s last days in office and the pivotal role played by Gorbachev’s visit.

Honecker, a hard-liner who ruled East Germany for 18 years, was ousted Oct. 18 and replaced as party leader by Egon Krenz. Growing pressure from the pro- democracy movement and dissent in party ranks forced Krenz and the entire Communist party leadership to step down Dec. 3.

A new Communist-led reformist coalition took its place and has agreed with the pro-democracy opposition to hold free elections on May 6, 1990.

The 77-year-old Honecker and 11 of his former aides - including Sindermann -have been expelled from the party. Honecker has been placed under house arrest and he and other leaders are accused of profiting financially from their positions of power.

Gorbachev’s visit came during a mass exodus of East Germans to the West. The official celebrations of East German statehood were marked by anti- government demonstrations, which included clashes between activists and security police.

Sindermann, one of Honecker’s closest aides in the ruling Politburo, said differences between Honecker and other Politburo members had been growing for some time.

Describing a meeting between Gorbachev and the Politburo during the Soviet leader’s visit, Sindermann said Gorbachev urged the leaders to pursue perestroika, the Soviet leader’s system of social and economic reforms.

″He told us we would have a much easier time with perestroika because we have a much higher level of economic development,″ Sindermann said.

″But Honecker kept on pulling out a U.N. statistic that showed that we had a higher productivity than the Soviet Union. And he used it to argue that we must stay true to the old course,″ Sindermann was quoted as saying. ″He told this to Gorbachev, too. That gave the impulse. We came out of the meeting and we were united. Now is the end.

″The next day we went to the Politburo and (former premier Willi) Stoph made the motion to remove Honecker. And that’s how it happened,″ Sindermann was quoted as saying.

He said the Politburo voted unanimously to oust Honecker. ″He was fighting against it.″

Meanwhile, talks between the Communist-led coalition government and the opposition resumed in controversy Wednesday when the chairman of Democratic Awakening, one of the new political parties, withdrew from the forum.

Wolfgang Schnur denied newspaper allegations that he had abused his position to obtain a large apartment. But Schnur said he was withdrawing from the talks until the matter is clarified.

The fourth session of the discussions on the future of the country ended Wednesday with opposition calls for more say in the day-to-day running of the country.

Several opposition leaders called on Communist Premier Hans Modrow to attend all the sessions and to consult more with the participants over important government decisions.

The talks involve 37 representatives from five established political parties, including the Communists, and 16 opposition groups.

The forum is acting as a watchdog group on Modrow’s government until the elections.

The official news agency ADN published results of a survey carried out last week in Leipzig, the cradle of East Germany’s pro-democracy movement, that gave Modrow a 66 percent approval rating, up from 58 percent a week earlier.

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