Berlin Wall blunderer Guenter Schabowski dies at 86

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Media captionThe BBC's Brian Hanrahan reports on Gunther Schabowksi's Politburo announcement - from 9 November 1989

A senior East German official whose impromptu announcement at a news conference led to the demise of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has died aged 86.

Guenter Schabowski said travel restrictions on the ex-state's citizens would be immediately lifted, prompting tens of thousands to cross to the West.

Officials had intended to phase in changes the next day, but the mass of people hastened the Wall's rapid fall.

The measures were intended to stem an exodus to Hungary amid mass protests.

Less than a year later, East and West Germany were reunited into one country, ending 45 years of division.

'Without delay'

Mr Schabowski was a spokesman for the East German regime in 1989, when Communist governments across Eastern Europe were facing a wave of popular protest.

The government had decided to make it easier for East Germans to travel to Western Europe, in an attempt to curb a flood of people crossing into Hungary, which had itself opened its western borders.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Schabowski said in his biography that the East German regime was fatally flawed

On 9 November he gave a news conference outlining the changes, but the late BBC correspondent Brian Hanrahan - who witnessed the events - said he had jumped the gun as they were supposed to be announced early the next morning.

And asked when the changes would come into effect, he said: "This occurs, to my knowledge... immediately... without delay."

In 1997, Mr Schabowski was jailed for three years for his role in East Germany's policy of shooting those who tried to cross into the West, but was pardoned after a year.

In 2009 he wrote an autobiography denouncing the regime as being fatally flawed.

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