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German gun club drops bid to strip title from Muslim marksman

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German gun club that tried to strip a Muslim member of his marksman title because of his religion backed down on Wednesday after its decision caused national outrage.

The Association of Historic German Shooting Brotherhoods (BHDS) said Mithat Gedik, a 33-year-old German of Turkish ancestry, could keep the title he won as top marksman - “Schuetzenkoenig” - of a local competition, though it said it would not be recognised outside his village of Werl-Soennern.

An old but until now not always rigorously-enforced rule of the club says only Christians are allowed to be members.

Germany’s shooting clubs pride themselves on being bastions of tradition, with many tracing their roots to the early 19th century and the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Members don traditional uniforms to practise their marksman skills.

“The BHDS board has decided against raising objections to Mithat Gedik winning the shooting competition. But he won’t be allowed to carry the title outside the local district,” it said.

There was initially no objection to Gedik’s victory on July 18 in the shooting competition at the St. Georg Soennern-Proebsting gun club, one of thousands of such contests across Germany.

But after he won there was an investigation about whether as a Muslim he qualified to be a member. The rules say the club’s aim is to promote “Christian and historical culture”.

A “Schuetzenkoenig” title is a quintessentially German honour cherished by traditionalists in provincial Germany.

“It is completely incomprehensible that we still need to have these debates in the 21st century,” Gedik, whose parents came to Germany from Turkey decades ago, was quoted as telling Der Spiegel news magazine.

The shooting tournament ended with many pictures, posted on the club’s official website, showing a smiling Gedik in a green felt hat topped with a feather, proudly surrounded by family and friends, posing with his ‘Schuetzenkoenig’ award.

The attempts by the BHDS to strip Gedik of his title led to negative media reports and protests across Germany.

The head of the German government’s anti-discrimination office, Christine Lueders, sent a letter to the BHDS condemning its “intolerant and discriminatory attitude”.

Guntram Schneider, integration minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state in western Germany where the club is based, said it was “just insane” that they had wanted to strip Gedik of his prize, according to Der Spiegel.

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany also criticized the BHDS, while the co-leader of the Greens party, Cem Oezdemir, himself of Turkish ancestry, said in a Twitter message: “What century are we living in here?”

Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Erik Kirschbaum and Gareth Jones