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Ex-East German defence minister Heinz Kessler dies at 97

Heinz Kessler, a former East German defence minister later convicted of incitement to manslaughter for upholding a shoot-to-kill policy at the border, has died aged 97.

The Eulenspiegel Verlag publishing house, which published his book Without The Wall, There Would Have Been War, said he died in Berlin on May 2.

Kessler was defence minister from 1985 until November 1989 and became a member of the communist party's politburo in 1986.

His promotion to minister and general followed a long career in the senior ranks of the military and as a deputy defence minister.

In January 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was ejected from the party along with others from the hardline communist era.

Kessler was arrested in May 1991 after officials in reunited Germany, hurt by East German leader Erich Honecker's escape to Moscow, were told he would try to flee the country wearing a Red Army uniform.

Police blocked entrances to a Soviet air base in Sperenberg for several hours but Kessler was eventually arrested in Berlin.

In 1993, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

The case went as far as the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2001 upheld Kessler's conviction - along with that of East Germany's last hardline leader, Egon Krenz, and other officials.

An estimated 700 to 800 people died at East Germany's heavily fortified border with the West before it was opened in late 1989.

AP

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