German govt OKs new crisis guidelines, rejects criticism

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany's government on Wednesday approved new guidelines for protecting the population in case of emergencies such as attacks or long-term power outages, and the country's top security official pushed back against criticism of the timing and manner of its presentation.

The "Civil Protection Concept" approved by the Cabinet is the first update to the plan since 1995. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it was overdue given how much the challenges have changed since and has been in the works for four years.

The likeliest challenge now, he said, is a prolonged power outage in part or all of the country, a major problem for an increasingly digitalized society.

"I can imagine that there are groups or states, or a mixture of groups and states, that would have an interest in testing out how resilient, how adaptable, German society is regarding our dependency on the power supply," he said, without elaborating on who those groups or countries might be.

The plan points to possible dangers from weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and cyberattacks. It sets out who is responsible for doing what in case of emergencies, and includes a recommendation that people should supply themselves with 10 days' worth of groceries.

A leak of that section over the weekend prompted widespread criticism and ridicule. On Monday, the head of a union representing German police, Rainer Wendt, said that the protection concept in itself was right, but "the real disaster is the government's disastrous communication."

De Maiziere on Wednesday rejected the idea that the government is encouraging "panic buying," noting that it was merely reiterating a long-standing recommendation by the country's civil protection agency.

He also defended another leaked section, which says the law provides for quick delivery of mail that's important to the military, for example call-up letters "if conscription is revived." Germany abandoned military conscription in 2011, though it was technically suspended rather than scrapped.

De Maiziere said that was only an example and "a reintroduction of conscription ... is absolutely not up for debate."

The revised plan was ordered up in 2012 by a parliamentary committee. The government approved it weeks after a string of attacks, including two claimed by the Islamic State group, rattled Germany.

Opposition Left Party leader Bernd Riexinger accused de Maiziere of "scaremongering" and said the ministers' conservatives were abusing civil protection plans for "electoral bluster."

"This concept has nothing to do with the terror situation, but with many conceivable major dangers for our country," de Maiziere said. The plan was simply approved when it was ready, he added.

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