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German NSA Panel's Chairman Quits in Spat Over Snowden

BERLIN - The chairman of a new German parliamentary panel probing mass surveillance by the NSA abruptly quit on Wednesday, rejecting opposition demands that the body question fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Lawmakers from the opposition Greens and far-left Linke parties had demanded that the committee seek testimony from Snowden, the former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA) now living in Moscow.

However, its conservative chairman Clemens Binninger rejected the idea and unexpectedly quit his post less than a week after the body was established, claiming the different parties were unable to work constructively together.

Binninger accused the left-leaning opposition members of a "one-sided fixation" with Snowden and said "a committee of inquiry should not primarily serve to help political parties score points".

He also said in a statement that he "remains sceptical that Snowden, given his own public statements, can be of any help to us as a witness".

The Linke party's lawmaker Andre Hahn called Binninger's reasoning absurd and said "it goes without saying that the opposition wants to hear Snowden", speaking to the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung daily.

Snowden, regarded as a traitor by the administration of US President Barack Obama, has spoken via video link on several occasions to other bodies, including to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg this week.

The eight-member German committee of inquiry was set up last Thursday to assess the extent of US spying, especially by the NSA, on German citizens and politicians, and whether German intelligence had knowledge of, or aided, its activities.

Binninger is set to be replaced by lawmaker Patrick Sensburg, also of the Christian Democrats party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose mobile phone was allegedly surveilled by the NSA.

Green party veteran lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, who has visited Snowden in Moscow, has demanded that the fugitive be allowed to enter Germany as a protected witness.

"He wants to testify here, and he would like to stay here," Stroebele said on ARD public television. "The government must create the conditions to allow him to make his statement."

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