Helmut Schmidt, former West German chancellor, dies at 96

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By Euronews
Helmut Schmidt, former West German chancellor, dies at 96

<p>Many Germans will remember the fifth chancellor of the federal republic enjoying a cigarette. Perhaps his country’s best-known chain smoker, Helmut Schmidt was also seen as a thinker, as much as a statesman.</p> <p>The former German Chancellor said: “I was not interested in power, or in that career. Admittedly, I was interested in public recognition, that’s true. Somebody who thirsts for power is potentially a dangerous fellow.”</p> <p>Schmidt’s eight-year tenure as head of government came during a turbulent period in West German history. He took over as chancellor in 1974 after his fellow Social-Democrat Party member Willy Brandt resigned, when a most senior aide was unmasked as an East German communist spy.</p> <p>He brought his talents to the fore on the stage of the east-west Cold War conflict. To counter a threat of Soviet missiles, Schmidt had pushed through a controversial strategy backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation which envisaged east-west arms control talks.</p> <p>This was coupled with the threat of basing US-medium-range missiles in Europe in case the Kremlin failed to agree to dismantle its SS20s targeted at the West. </p> <p>The decision provoked massive anti-nuclear protests in Germany – but the tough stance eventually paid off; Moscow later withdrew its medium-range missiles.</p> <p>On dire matters within Germany, Schmidt refused to give way before left-wing terrorists – the Red Army Faction. </p> <p>They spread fear with bomb attacks and abductions.</p> <p>Then, in 1977, Palestinian militants hijacked a German passenger plane in a bid to secure the release of imprisoned Red Army Faction leaders. Schmidt ordered West German commandos to storm the plane, and all the passengers were saved.</p> <p>He was forced to leave office in the autumn of 1982, when a no-confidence vote in parliament followed the collapse of his coalition with the Free Democrats. He was replaced as chancellor by Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democrats.</p> <p>But Schmidt stayed active in public life: he joined the national weekly newspaper Die Zeit as co-publisher and Managing Director, and for three decades his opinions retained importance in the public and political arena.</p>