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Former Communists Will Form Part of Berlin Government - 2002-01-16

Former Communists will form part of the ruling coalition in Berlin for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Not everyone is happy at the comeback.

After months of negotiation Berlin's mayor, Social Democrat Klaus Wowereit, has put together a coalition government to rule the German capital for the next four years.

The mayor signed a coalition agreement with Gregor Gysi, the leader of the former East German Communist Party, now known as the Party of Democratic Socialism. The new team is to be put to the state parliament Thursday.

Berlin is one of Germany's 16 federal states.

The coalition is a historic first for a city that for almost 30 years was divided between the Communist, Russian backed government in the East and a pro-Western, democratic government in the West.

It is seen as a particularly sensitive development that Mr. Gysi will become the city's senator for the economy, a job which involves negotiations with business and the trade unions, as well as difficult decisions on the city's future investment and employment policies.

Mr. Gysi is not known for his economic experience, and does not present himself as a hard-line socialist. On the contrary, just one-month after the fall of the Berlin Wall he was urging party members to accept the virtues of competition and of freely arrived at consensus between management and workers. Nonetheless, the former communists are Mayor Wowereit's second choice as coalition partner. Before that he tried, and failed, to negotiate an agreement with the free-trading, free-market liberals of the Free Democratic Party and the environmentalist Greens.

In the wake of the terror attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, Mr. Wowereit was wary of the pacifist rhetoric of the former communists, which opposed the war in Afghanistan and objected to the sending of German troops.

What is more, the agreement with the Party of Democratic Socialism has led to the resignation of several old-guard members of the Mayor's Social Democrat Party, who stood behind powerful leaders such as former Chancellor Willy Brandt during the worst days of the Cold War.

But debt-burdened Berlin cannot go on indefinitely without a government, and despite its socialist past, Mr. Gysi's party has accepted tough cost cutting measures in the public sector, and some of Mr. Wowereit's key economic demands.