HALLE, Germany -- Weeks of political infighting and criticism took their toll yesterday when Chancellor Helmut Kohl lost patience with a group of egg-throwing protesters and tried to punch them.
Mr. Kohl was ducking out the back of the Halle City Hall when about 30 young people began throwing eggs. Instead of running for cover, he pulled away from his security guards and lunged over the gate separating him from the crowd.
Security guards tried to pull him back from the crowd, but he twisted free and grabbed at several of the youths, who taunted him with cries of "Liar, liar."
Eventually the guards won: Mr. Kohl went inside, and the protesters ran away.
Everyone tried to play down the event, but Mr. Kohl was obviously shaken and embarrassed by his outburst, which followed another egg attack last month when he visited eastern Germany.
The attack symbolized the frustration felt by some eastern Germans. They feel cheated by western politicians who promised them the sky before last year's elections but then went ahead with economic plans that have resulted in mass unemployment.
RF Equally significant was Mr. Kohl's violent rage at the people who
spoiled what would have been a perfectly stage-managed visit to one of the most economically depressed areas of Europe.
The visit was to have been a sign that Mr. Kohl had not after all forgotten the former East Germany, which he had not visited for months after winning the December election. Under pressure to show the flag, he went in April and promised to come over regularly to learn about the region's massive problems first hand.
He started yesterday in Bitterfeld, which is considered Europe's most polluted city because of its chemical factories, and then came to Halle, where the attack occurred. Later he addressed a group of largely sympathetic workers.
"I'm not here to make any promises but to say that this region should remain a major chemical-producing area," he said at the huge Buna chemical works, which developed synthetic rubber for Nazi Germany's war machine but now is unprofitable and almost bankrupt, with 10,000 of its 18,000 employees heading for the unemployment line.
Already, however, the equivalent of $300 million has been invested in the 2,500-acre works, which Mr. Kohl said would be part of a major chemical-producing region around Halle that would rival anything in western Germany.
Most workers were happy that Mr. Kohl was visiting the site and had little sympathy for the demonstrators.
"The SED [Communist Party] bigwigs never visited the areas once. At least he has the courage to come. Let him have a look," said Dirk Gurezka, a welder who has 35 years' experience at the Buna works.
Despite this largely supportive atmosphere, Mr. Kohl was extremely tense during the visit, and several aides said they wanted the trip to be a much-needed success after weeks of political infighting.
Up until an agreement earlier this week with his coalition partners, Mr. Kohl has been having to stave off internal bickering from the partners, who sense his political vulnerability and are trying to distance themselves from his party.
In the end, Mr. Kohl put a brave face on the visit: "It was a success. A few mobile troublemakers were not representative of Halle," he said.