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Suspect in German politician's murder retracts confession: lawyer

German special police escorts Stephan E., supected of killing the administrative chief of the city of Kassel Walter Luebcke, back to a helicopter after a hearing at the Federal Court in Karlsruhe, Germany, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Reuters TV

BERLIN (Reuters) - The man charged with the murder last month of pro-immigration German politician Walter Luebcke has retracted his confession, his new lawyer said on Tuesday.

Stephan Ernst stands accused of having shot Luebcke, president of the regional government of Kassel, point blank in the head. The government said he had confessed to the killing soon after being arrested in mid-June.

“In today’s court hearing, Mr Ernst withdrew his confession,” said Frank Hannig, who said Ernst had recently appointed him as his new defense lawyer.

Luebcke was a hate figure for the far-right because of his outspoken defense of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in over a million refugees.

His killing triggered soul-searching over whether Germany was being complacent about the far-right threat.

If Luebcke’s murder is found to have been politically motivated, it would be the first murder in Germany of an elected politician by far-right forces since the fall of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime at the end of World War Two.

Ernst’s original confession did not stop further investigation into a crime that shocked Germany. Police later arrested two other suspects who they said were involved in obtaining the gun used in the killing.

The chance discovery in 2011 of a neo-Nazi cell, the National Socialist Underground, whose members murdered eight Turks, a Greek man and a German policewoman from 2000 to 2007, sparked concerns that security services were underestimating the far-right threat.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Mark Heinrich