German president resigns following corruption allegations
By Helen Livingstone Feb 17, 2012, 15:07 GMT
German President Christian Wulff (L) and his wife Bettina leave a press conference after Wulff announced his resignation at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, 17 February 2012. EPA/MAURIZIO GAMBARINI
Berlin - The search began Friday for the third German head of state in as many years, after President Christian Wulff resigned - saying that persistent corruption allegations had eroded public trust in him, making his position untenable.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to meet coalition leaders Saturday to discuss possible successors, government sources said. She said she would also consult with the opposition Social Democrats and Greens to find a consensus candidate.
On Thursday, public prosecutors had applied to lift Wulff's immunity following allegations over favours accepted from wealthy friends while he was premier of the state of Lower Saxony during 2003-10.
His resignation places more pressure on Merkel and her government, currently at the forefront of a battle to contain the eurozone debt crisis.
Wulff - who served as president for less than two years after Merkel hand-picked him following the unexpected 2010 resignation of Horst Koehler - announced his decision Friday in a live broadcast from his Berlin residence.
Germany needed a president who could meet challenges at home and abroad without constraints, he said, with the trust of 'not just a majority but a broad majority of citizens.'
'The events of the past days and weeks have shown that this trust and therefore my influence have been lastingly damaged,' he said.
Merkel, who cancelled planned talks in Rome with the Italian premier, thanked Wulff, saying he had worked tirelessly for an 'open, modern Germany.'
'He made it clear to us that the strength of this country lies in its diversity,' Merkel said. Her comment was a reference to Wulff's stance on integration and a statement early on in his presidency that 'Islam belongs in Germany.'
Wulff's stance was welcomed by immigrants but put him at odds with conservative members of Merkel's Christian Democrat party (CDU), of which the president was formerly a member. Wulff also highlighted his work on promoting integration in his resignation speech.
'I'm convinced that Germany can best develop its economic and social strength and make a good contribution to European unity when integration succeeds at home,' he said.
He admitted making mistakes during his term of office but said he had always acted 'correctly.'
The corruption allegations against the president began in mid-December.
The latest - and potentially most damaging - involve allegations that he accepted a free holiday at a German beach resort from David Groenewold, a manager of film investment deals, in 2007.
Wulff denied the accusation last week, saying he paid in cash. But media reported that Groenewold had paid for the whole party on his credit card.
State prosecutors in Hannover, the capital of Lower Saxony, are focusing their investigations on this allegation, but will not be able to question witnesses, secure documents or access files until Wulff's immunity expires.
'We are checking when the president's immunity is lifted in this type of resignation declaration,' a spokesman for the prosecutors said Friday.
The accusations were first sparked by allegations that Wulff had accepted a loan from wealthy friends to finance the purchase of a house while premier of Lower Saxony.
Wulff had to admit that he had been economical with the truth during a 2010 disclosure about his business dealings and had hidden the fact that the initial loan came from the wife of a businessman friend, Egon Geerkens.
No offence has yet been proven but Wulff's seemingly cosy links with businessmen had caused disquiet.
His image was further tarnished when the tabloid Bild, Germany's most popular newspaper, revealed that Wulff had left voicemails on its editor's phone, threatening that reports about his home loans would put the two 'at war.'
German presidents are elected by a specially-convened body consisting of the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, and the same number of people again, selected by the country's 16 federal states. It usually contains high-profile members of society including artists and celebrities.
As the head of the Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament, Horst Seehofer - leader of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union - now becomes acting head of state.
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