Merkel hails late German leader Schmidt for anti-terror fight

German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the state funeral ceremony for late former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt on Nov 23, 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the state funeral ceremony for late former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt on Nov 23, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

HAMBURG (AFP) - Political leaders bid farewell to former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt with a state funeral on Monday (Nov 23), paying tribute to his steady leadership in the face of terror attacks and economic crisis.

Under tight security, Chancellor Angela Merkel, much of her Cabinet, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, gathered at the landmark Saint Michael's Church in his native port city of Hamburg with 1,800 mourners.

Schmidt, who died on Nov 10 aged 96, led then-West Germany from 1974 to 1982.

Standing by his coffin draped in the black, red and gold German flag and surrounded by bouquets of sunflowers and white lilies, Merkel hailed Schmidt for his unwavering stance during a bloody campaign by the far-left Red Army Faction (RAF).

"We are again faced with horrific attacks," she said.

"Our thoughts constantly drift to Paris. The motives today are different and the circumstances are too. But terror remains terror."

Merkel, 61, said the answer, then as now after this month's deadly extremist attacks in the French capital, lay in a muscular response without a sacrifice of shared values.

"Freedom is stronger than terror and hatred," she said. "Humanity is stronger than barbarity."

Schmidt led his country as it rose to become a global economic powerhouse, and steered the post-war republic through some of its darkest hours.

In 1977, when Palestinian militants hijacked a Lufthansa plane and demanded the release of jailed leaders of the extreme-left RAF, Schmidt ordered the aircraft be stormed.

In the same year, three high-profile figures including a federal prosecutor were killed in a wave of RAF assassinations, bombings and kidnappings that shook West Germany throughout the decade.

Merkel, a conservative, also pointed to the centrist Social Democrat Schmidt's leadership in responding to a global economic downturn sparked by the oil crisis by establishing the forerunner to G7 summits of industrialised nations with the French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who also attended the funeral.

Kissinger, 92, praised his friend and fellow practitioner of Realpolitik, the cool-headed pragmatic politics in a Europe riven by the Iron Curtain, as a kind of "global conscience" with "vision and courage".

He quoted one of Schmidt's famous aphorisms: "Politics without a conscience can lead to criminal acts."

Following an outpouring of public affection since his death, Merkel noted that Schmidt had remained a "sharp-witted political observer and commentator" until his death.

A chain smoker well into his 90s, Schmidt was the only German granted permission to light up whenever and wherever he chose, even during his frequent appearances on television chat shows.

Capable of being both amusing and brusque, Schmidt once famously dismissed an interviewer's question, saying: "Anyone who has visions should see a doctor."