A leader of Germany's Greens party has admitted "mistakes" over its past support for paedophile groups calling for the decriminalisation of sex with children, in a serious blow ahead of general elections.
Fresh from a stinging regional poll result, Jürgen Trittin, a former environment minister, on Monday voiced regret in a national newspaper for a 1981 local election manifesto advocating the conditional decriminalisation, which he jointly signed.
Trittin was one of five people who signed off on the manifesto for local elections in the northern town of Göttingen, two political scientists said in Monday's Tageszeitung newspaper.
Trittin said that not only the Greens, in their early days, had been subject to pressure from lobbyists on the issue, but that this had been more pronounced at the local branch, which had not reacted forcefully enough.
"We didn't even scrutinise it when we compiled our programme for the local elections in 1981," he said. "This is also my responsibility. And these are also my mistakes, which I regret."
The election pamphlet for the university town called for sexual acts between children and adults without the use or threat of violence to be decriminalised, the researchers said.
The Greens party has slumped in polls ahead of the September 22 vote after having its anti-nuclear policy trump card snatched away by conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and facing ridicule over a call for a weekly "Veggie Day" in work canteens.
In the wealthy southern state of Bavaria on Sunday, the party scored under 9 per cent in an election.
"It'll be fascinating [to see] whether the latest paedophile accusations affect support for the Greens," commented news website Spiegel Online.
"Will the child-sex problem cost the Greens the federal election?" asked Bild daily.
Trittin, one of two top Greens' candidates for Merkel's job, announced in May that independent researchers would shed light on the influence a pro-paedophilia group had within the party in 1980s. He referred, at the time, in particular to a 1985 decision at a regional party conference when delegates argued in favour of violence-free sex acts between adults and children to be exempt from punishment.
Trittin came under immediate fire from Merkel's conservatives over the manifesto.
"Mr Trittin is really to consider whether he is the right person for this leadership task for the Greens," Philipp Missfelder of the ruling Christian Democratic Union was quoted by national DPA news agency as saying.
Alexander Dobrindt, general secretary of its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, fresh from a triumph at the Bavarian ballot box, told Focus online: "Trittin must drop being candidate for chancellor."
Trittin's co-candidate for chancellor Katrin Göring-Eckardt defended him on Monday, saying on ZDF public television that he had not been aware at the time he was responsible for the publication of a manifesto.
"We know of course that there will be attempts to turn that against us," she said referring to the elections, stressing the Greens' opposition to paedophilia was now "crystal clear".