Merkel expects under-fire president to clear up scandals

4th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday she was "absolutely confident" that Germany's scandal-hit president would clear up a mounting series of scandals, as political pressure mounted on both of them.

A spokesman for Merkel, Georg Streiter, said she expected Christian Wulff would personally address intense criticism of his personal finances and threats he made against at least two reporters in a bid to snuff out critical stories.

"The chancellor is absolutely confident that the president will continue to answer all open questions completely," he told a regular government press briefing. "She has enormous respect for the work of the president."

Public broadcaster ARD cited sources close to Wulff as saying he had no plans to step down.

ARD and rival ZDF said later that Wulff, a conservative ally of Merkel whom she handpicked as her candidate for head of state in 2010, had granted them a joint interview which would be broadcast later Wednesday.

The media uproar has created an unwelcome political distraction for Merkel as she grapples with the eurozone debt crisis at the start of what is expected to be a turbulent year.

Wulff, 52, landed in hot water last month when the powerful daily Bild reported that he had concealed a home loan at an advantageous interest rate he accepted from the wife of a tycoon friend while premier of Lower Saxony state.

When opposition state deputies asked him whether he had business ties to the tycoon or any firms connected with him, Wulff had kept quiet.

This week it emerged that Wulff had called Bild's editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann one day before the story's publication and left a blistering voicemail message threatening him with "war" if he went ahead with the report.

Meanwhile another publication, Welt am Sonntag, said one of its reporters had been summoned to the presidential palace for a dressing-down over another article, about Wulff's strained relationship with his half-sister.

Streiter noted that Wulff had apologised to Diekmann "and his apology was also accepted".

Wulff's presidency has been rocky from the start.

His election in June 2010 proved humiliating for Merkel as members of her own coalition broke ranks and refused to vote for him in parliament amid a strong challenge from a former East German dissident, a political outsider.

Wulff, who had once been considered a potential challenger to Merkel, only eked out a victory in the third round.

A member of their conservative Christian Democratic Union, Vera Lengsfeld, another former East German rights activist, openly called Wednesday for Wulff to step aside.

"The overwhelming majority of the population can no longer take him seriously," she told the online service of business daily Handelsblatt.

And a leader of the opposition Greens party, Claudia Roth, said it was now up to Merkel to address the scandals buffeting her fellow conservative, whose role is largely ceremonial but who serves as a kind of moral arbiter.

"After all, she was the one who made the presidential election into an issue of her own power instead of seeking consensus," Roth told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

The chancellor has until now issued terse statements expressing her confidence in Wulff without touching on the substance of the accusations against him.

© 2012 AFP

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