German Greens leader sorry for 1980s call to decriminalize sex with minors

Top candidate of the Green Party (Die Gruenen) Juergen Trittin talks during a news conference in Berlin, September 16, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BERLIN (Reuters) - A leader of Germany's Greens party apologized on Monday for having endorsed a call in 1981 by a branch of his party to decriminalise consensual sex with minors, a revelation that could alienate voters ahead of a federal election on Sunday. The issue could hardly have surfaced at a worse time for the Greens, who have seen their ratings tumble in the last month, and their hopes of a return to power fade. "There were demands in the party's early days that were wrong and I didn't do enough to stand up against them," former environment minister Juergen Trittin told a news conference. "Those were mistakes that I made and I regret them. It was seen as liberalism then, but went too far." Trittin was a student at the University of Goettingen in 1981 and running for local office when he signed off on a regional party platform that, among other things, called for a relaxation of laws banning incest and consensual sex with minors. The Greens, who in 1989 distanced themselves from those calls, have commissioned an independent researcher, Goettingen professor Franz Walter, to investigate their earlier backing of pedophile practices. Walter has revealed that members of the Free Democrats (FDP), junior coalition partners to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, also endorsed calls to decriminalise sex with minors at the time. Trittin, environment minister in the Social Democrat-Greens government from 1998 to 2005 and one of two figures leading the Greens' 2013 campaign, said his party and others had faced "organized pressure" from special interest groups to decriminalise sex with minors. The Greens saw their support surge as high as 23 percent in 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, but have fallen back to about 10 percent in recent opinion polls. The party has been hurt by calls for tax increases, by its suggestions that Germans eat less meat, and by the public discussion over its tolerance of pedophilia in the "free love" years after the Greens were established in 1980. (Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Hans-Edzard Busemann; Editing by Kevin Liffey)