Former East German leader Erich Honecker was arraigned Thursday on 49 counts of manslaughter in the shootings of border defectors, setting the stage for a trial recalling the Cold War trauma of Germany.
He was brought before a court from Berlin's grim Moabit prison where he was housed after extradition from his Chilean Embassy refuge in Russia Wednesday. Honecker, 79, was described by his lawyer as "very shaken" after submitting to a hearing that effectively condemned his 18-year rule as an inhumane, corrupt dictatorship - a scant five years after his feted state visit to West Germany.
The defiant Stalinist ex-leader, who left Moscow giving a communist clenched-fist salute, accepted the charges read out to him and made no statement, justice officials said.
Honecker masterminded the building of the Berlin Wall to stop his people fleeing West in the Cold War era before German unification. He fell from power just weeks before the collapse of communism in East Germany.
He was also charged with fraud and abuse of power.
Carrying his trademark fedora hat, Honecker smiled wanly at his lawyer and shook his hand after the 15-minute hearing before being returned to the prison hospital.
Friedrich Wolff, the lawyer, said Honecker was ejected from his Chilean Embassy refuge in Moscow against his will Wednesday before being flown back to Berlin. German government and justice officials, as well as Chile's foreign ministry, said he left voluntarily.
East Germans rose up to oust Honecker from power in October 1989, frustrated by his refusal to reform. Democratic West Germany absorbed his old police state under unification a year later.
Honecker fled to Moscow in March 1991 to avoid arrest and holed up in Chile's legation last December after the disintegration of Soviet communism exposed him to deportation.
The German weekly Die Zeit predicted Honecker would argue the wall was built on secret orders from the Kremlin.