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Tensions grow over selectingGerman president candidate

2 March 2004

BERLIN – Germany’s conservative opposition parties issued conflicting accounts Tuesday about whether they had agreed on a candidate for the country’s next president, with the head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel, issuing a denial.

In earlier accounts, sources at the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said Merkel and CSU boss Edmund Stoiber had agreed late Monday on former top CDU official Wolfgang Schaeuble as the candidate for the May election.

This appeared to have been confirmed during the course of the morning when the head of the CSU group in Berlin, Michael Glos, said Merkel and Stoiber had discussed Schaeuble as a candidate in terms which would be acceptable to the small liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

But Merkel then issued a flat denial that she and Stoiber had agreed on Schaeuble as a candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president.

“We have not agreed on it,” Merkel told the first television channel ARD. There had been no change in the situation than had been the case on Monday, she added.

“There is no disagreement that Wolfgang Schaeuble is an outstanding man,” Merkel also said.

Earlier on, FDP head Guido Westerwelle expressed his irritation at the developments.

His spokesman, Martin Kothe, said Westerwelle wold decline to comment “either about rumours or disruptive manoeuvres” regarding the discussion about a presidential candidate.

Early Tuesday, the sources in the CDU-CSU camp had said that Merkel and Stoiber agreed that Schaeuble was the “best-suited personality” for the German presidency and enjoyed broad support in both the CDU and CSU.

The CDU, CSU and FDP, although in the opposition in the federal German parliament, hold a majority in the Federal Assembly, which elects the president.

The assembly will meet on 23 May to elect a successor to Johannes Rau, a Social Democrat, who has decided not to run for reelection to the largely ceremonial post. The German presidential term is for five years.

Schaeuble, 61, was a top official for many years in the CDU-led governments of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), serving among others as Interior Minister and as head of the CDU faction in parliament. He was widely regarded as the “crown prince” who would one day succeed Kohl.

Subject: German news