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Berlin anniversary sparks debate

An unidentified man tramples on a wreath laid by the Party of Democratic Socialists in Berlin on Monday  

BERLIN, Germany -- Four decades after the Berlin Wall went up, debate rages over the extent to which the successors of East German communism have reformed.

Monday marks 40 years since Soviet-backed East Germany -- anxious to stop a growing flow of refugees to the West -- started building the barrier in the early hours of August 13, 1961.

In a secret plan dubbed "Operation Rose," soldiers first laid out coils of barbed wire across the East-West dividing line. Over the years an ever more impermeable barrier was constructed, reinforced with minefields, dogs -- and guards who shot to kill.

About 800 people were killed as they tried to escape over the 155-km (96-mile) Wall that surrounded West Berlin and cross the border between East and West Germany.

Memories of the Berlin Wall  
JFK interpreter remembers the night the Wall went up  

Shooting to kill at the Berlin Wall  
How the Wall worked  

Conservative politicians are using Monday's anniversary to condemn their opponents' association with the successor to the communist East German SED, the party which ordered the Wall built.

The reformed communists, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), have declined to directly apologize for the Berlin Wall.

Instead, the party has said the killings of people trying to cross to the West were "inhuman" and expressed regret for "injustice" carried out by former East German rulers.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder marked the anniversary on Monday by laying a wreath at a memorial on Bernauer Strasse, which ran along the wall.

In the months after the wall went up, people jumped into the street, which lay in the west, from windows of apartments on the eastern side.

Eventually, the windows were boarded up, and the buildings torn down. But Bernauer Strasse continued to be an escape point through tunnels dug secretly beneath it.

"We must learn from history so that such things aren't repeated, not in Germany and not anywhere in the world," Schroeder said.

One man was dragged away by police when he tried to remove a wreath placed there earlier by the PDS.

Schroeder's Social Democrats look set to form a coalition in the city of Berlin with the PDS after October mayoral elections in the capital.

"The PDS is still building a wall between freedom and socialism," Bavaria's conservative premier Edmund Stoiber said at a rally on Sunday at Berlin's former Checkpoint Charlie, the Cold War's best-known border crossing between East and West.

"Whoever makes a coalition with the PDS practises the socialism of the East German communists."

Former chancellor Helmut Kohl, who oversaw German reunification in 1990, also condemned the party, which remains popular in the still-depressed East but is viewed with suspicion in the West.

"The bulk of PDS members and important functionaries have not learnt anything from history," Kohl told Bild newspaper on Monday. "And now they do not have the courage to say it was a wall of disgrace."

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a wreath-laying ceremony in Berlin  

Schroeder has repeatedly ruled out cooperating with the PDS at the national level, where the party of ex-communists won 5.1 percent of parliament seats in the 1998 elections.

The Berlin election was scheduled after the June collapse of the city's "grand coalition" between the Christian Democrats, led by then-Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, and Social Democrats. Now, interim mayor Klaus Wowereit governs in a minority with the Greens party -- holding power with consent of the PDS.

The PDS won 40 percent of the vote in eastern Berlin in the last election in 1999, and 17.7 overall. This time, with the charismatic and well-known Gregor Gysi as its candidate, it hopes to do better.

To try to preserve the Wall's history, the Berlin city government said Sunday it would pass a resolution this week declaring the few remaining sections of the former barrier as protected memorials.

For the first time on the anniversary, the government also ordered flags on federal buildings to be flown Monday at half-mast.

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