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German commander removed from post

Germany's defence minister has removed the commander of a troubled navy training ship as the nation's most popular politician struggled to restore a sense of control following a week of criticism.

Defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg relieved commander Norbert Schatz of his duties at the helm of the Gorch Fock training ship and ordered the vessel to return from Argentina, where it is docked.

Guttenberg said the ship would remain in port and all training would be suspended pending the results of an investigation into events surrounding the death of a 25-year-old sailor who plunged from the ship's rigging in November.

"After so many factually harrowing reports, no one can return to business as usual," Mr Guttenberg told the news agency DAPD in Koblenz, where he was attending an event.

The Gorch Fock incident was one of three that brought the minister under fire from members of the opposition over the past week.

He also had to deal with allegations that the army tried to cover up the shooting death of a soldier in Afghanistan and the unauthorized opening of mail from soldiers.

Chancellor Angel Merkel has made it clear that she backs her minister.

"She supports and has faith that he will do what is necessary - to clear up what happened and to exact the necessary consequences," Merkel's spokesman Stefan Seibert told reporters on Friday.

Mr Guttenberg has topped the ZDF Politbarometer poll of the nation's most popular politician for months, and is viewed as having successfully pushing through an end to military conscription.

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