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Juncker resigns, Luxembourg to hold snap elections

  |   July 11, 2013 at 1:30 AM
LUXEMBOURG, July 11 (UPI) -- Luxembourg, which has not had a government fall in a century, will hold new elections after its prime minister resigns Thursday amid a secret service scandal.

"I will convene the government ... at 10 a.m. [4 a.m. EDT] and will go to the palace to suggest snap elections to the grand duke," Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday night in announcing his plans to resign after a 7-hour parliamentary grilling over his failure to control Luxembourg's secret service.

Le Service de renseignement de l'Etat luxembourgeois, or SREL, is being investigated by the state prosecutor for illegal wiretapping, corruption and dealing in stolen cars.

"It's true the secret service wasn't my top priority," Juncker, 58, told members of Parliament. "But I did look after it," he said.

He said he'd made fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons a priority.

He also said the parliamentary control committee also had power to rein in the secret service.

"It could have controlled it. ... It did not," he said.

At one point in the questioning, Juncker sardonically told lawmakers, "I'm not perspiring because I'm scared but because it's hot."

The early elections are expected to be held in October. They must be held within three months, the Parliament's website says.

It was not immediately clear if Juncker, in government for 30 years and prime minister since 1995, would be a candidate.

The president of the Christian Social People's Party, which has led all but one government since the end of World War II, said in a radio interview Wednesday he expected Juncker would run.

But the Financial Times quoted local media reports as saying EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding and Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden were front-runners to lead the party.

The 998-square-mile landlocked country of 525,000 people -- per capita the richest in Europe -- hasn't had a government fall since 1916.

A parliamentary commission led by Francois Bausch, the chamber's Green Party leader, accused Juncker of spending so much time in Brussels presiding over Eurogroup meetings and EU summits that he wasn't adequately able to oversee the "dysfunctional" SREL.

From 2005 until January, Juncker led the Eurogroup conclave of eurozone finance ministers, presiding over marathon meetings and putting together eurozone bailout packages.

His political skills are widely credited with holding the EU's single currency together during the debt crisis.

SREL Director Patrick Heck said in January that under his predecessor the agency illegally bugged phone conversations of senior officials, including those of Juncker. The parliamentary commission said the wiretapping took place from 2004 to 2009, when Marco Mille was dismissed as SREL director after being accused of orchestrating the irregularities.

The commission also found the SREL also ran a fictional counter-terrorism operation that was really a front to help a Russian oligarch pay $10 million to a Spanish spy.

"I did say that the intelligence service was not my priority," Juncker told lawmakers, adding, "Moreover, I hope that Luxembourg will never have a prime minister whose top priority is SREL."

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