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Former East German leader Erich Honecker has been taken to the Soviet Union for medical treatment, his lawyer said Thursday. The move appears to thwart attempts to put him on trial and could strain Soviet-German relations.

Defense lawyer Nicolas Becker said he tried Friday to visit Honecker at a Soviet military hospital outside Berlin but was told the 78-year-old ousted communist leader had been taken to the Soviet Union. Honecker was suffering from "acute" medical problems, the Berlin lawyer was told.Berlin prosecutors have charged Honecker with the deaths of would-be escapees over the Berlin Wall and across the now-vanished border between East and West Germany.

The mass-circulation newspaper Bild reported Honecker had been taken to the Soviet Union by Soviet military authorities because "only there can he be sufficiently treated medically."

"Honecker's health condition has taken a dramatic turn for the worse," the newspaper added. Bild said its report about Honecker would appear in Friday's editions. It was sent to other news media in advance.

"We are checking out this report," said a spokesman for the federal government in Bonn. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

In an interview published in another newspaper Thursday, Berlin's chief prosecutor said Honecker could be put on trial this year if the Soviets would turn him over to German authorities.