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German interior minister proposes domestic security shake-up

German interior minister proposes domestic security shake-up

BERLIN — Germany's interior minister is proposing a security shake-up that could include creating "federal departure centres" to ease the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers and centralizing the country's domestic intelligence agency.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere's suggestions in a guest article Tuesday in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung followed last month's attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

The government has promised to examine whether laws need to be changed following the Dec. 19 attack that killed 12 people. A failed Tunisian asylum-seeker is the prime suspect. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The proposals from de Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party, centre on giving federal authorities greater power on domestic security issues — responsibility for which is spread between the federal government and 16 state governments.

Deportations are now the responsibility of state authorities. De Maiziere called for better co-operation, suggesting federally run "departure centres" close to airports that could handle deportees in their "final days or weeks" in Germany.

Each state has its own branch of the domestic intelligence agency, in addition to its federal office. De Maiziere called for a discussion of putting it entirely under federal control, and also urged greater powers for the federal police to conduct traffic controls away from border areas.

At European Union level, de Maiziere advocated a "real mass-influx mechanism" to enable quicker handling of large numbers of migrants. He argued that countries should be considered safe if there's a "safe place" there with "humane and safe reception conditions," for example at facilities for which the EU could be partly responsible.

It's unclear how much traction de Maiziere's ideas will gain. A national election is expected in September and the conservatives' main rivals, the centre-left Social Democrats, are part of the current governing coalition. Germany's states, regardless of political colour, are reluctant to give up powers.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrats' leader, questioned the wisdom of concentrating now on a major security restructuring.

He said he was concerned that "if we started with this, security authorities would be preoccupied with themselves for a few years rather than hunting criminals and terrorists."

The Associated Press