Germany: official backed demand to probe leaks about rifle

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany's defense minister said Thursday that a senior official supported an arms manufacturer's bid to get the country's military intelligence service to probe leaks about alleged shortcomings of its assault rifle — a weapon that she has since ordered replaced.

Minister Ursula von der Leyen's statement came amid opposition calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the government's handling of problems with the G36 rifle. It followed reports by Der Spiegel and Stern magazines that manufacturer Heckler & Koch and a senior ministry official sought to have the intelligence agency take action against alleged leaks to journalists by officials.

Von der Leyen said it was "very strange" that Heckler & Koch approached the agency, known as MAD, in 2013 and "completely unacceptable" that the head of the ministry's armaments department in December that year wrote to MAD backing a call for investigations of officials.

MAD's director swiftly rejected the idea and the ministry official was removed from his post, according to von der Leyen, who became defense minister in December 2013.

Further work is needed to clear up what happened and how her office dealt with information about it, she said, adding that "structural and personnel consequences" will be drawn if needed.

Der Spiegel reported that ministry officials in consultation with the manufacturer had sought to prevent critical reporting and have MAD act against journalists. Heckler & Koch rejected that, saying in a statement that it never called for snooping on journalists or initiated a "joint operation" to suppress reporting.

Last month, von der Leyen said the G36 has "no future" with the German military in its current form and will be replaced — weeks after she said a study showed that there are problems with its accuracy, particularly at high temperatures. Heckler & Koch has questioned those conclusions and accused the government of damaging its reputation.

Von der Leyen, widely viewed as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, has faced questions from the media and opposition politicians over how long her ministry has been aware of the extent of problems with the G36.

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