Embattled German president, top paper cross swords

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Germany's scandal-hit president urged the country's top newspaper Thursday not to publish the transcript of an angry voicemail he left its chief editor, after the daily challenged his version of the call.

President Christian Wulff, 52, said in a letter to the editor-in-chief of Bild which was released by the presidential office that his message, expressed in an "extremely emotional situation", had been meant "for you and no-one else".

He pointed out that he had later apologised for the message, left during a busy official overseas trip and concerning a story Bild planned to run about a low-interest home loan. The editor had accepted the apology, Wulff said.

"With that, the matter between us was settled. So should it remain in my view," the president said.

Wulff late Wednesday made a nationally televised mea culpa after three weeks of intense pressure and calls for him to resign over the home loan from a tycoon friend's wife and subsequent claims he tried to hush up the story.

He held up his hands in the 20-minute interview to having made a "serious mistake" in calling chief editor Kai Diekmann in a rage but said he had only wanted to delay the story by a day.

However the move failed to quell the controversy.

Bild released earlier Thursday a fax sent to the president's office expressing "astonishment" that Wulff had presented the call as an attempt to delay the story rather than to block its publication.

It said it was asking for his agreement to make public the transcript of the voicemail in view of the "transparency of which you spoke".

Wulff said in the interview that he had felt like a "victim" on hearing about the impending Bild article and vowed to stay on in the post he assumed in 2010 with, at the time, strong backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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

But Volker Kauder, head of the parliamentary group of the conservative Christian Democrats to which Merkel and Wulff both belong, stressed that the president had apologised.

"One should accept that," he said in an interview with the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to appear Friday.

Wulff first landed in hot water last month when Bild reported that he had stayed quiet about the 2008 home loan while premier of Lower Saxony state when opposition deputies questioned whether he had business ties to the tycoon or any firms connected with him.

Wulff's televised attempt to draw a line under the affair failed to convince editorialists Thursday, who deemed that while he would likely hold on to his job for now he had deeply damaged the ceremonial office.

Bild said he had "wasted a further, possibly last chance to continue his time in office with dignity".

"The office (of president) will however need years until it recovers. And the affair is not yet over," Bild said.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily asked how the gravitas of the position could be restored, saying: "Wulff apparently trusts in the fact that he himself can do that. He stands rather alone in this confidence."

And news weekly Der Spiegel said in its online edition that it was well known that no political leader wanted a new presidential election.

"Therefore Wulff is allowed to stay. For now."

Forsa polling institute head Manfred Guellner told the Hanover-based Neue Presse paper he believed that the revelations about the president had "harmed the office".

According to a poll published Thursday but conducted before the interview was broadcast, 50 percent of those questioned said he should step down while 47 percent believe he can stay in office.

© 2012 AFP

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