German opposition leader to donate kidney to wife

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A leader of Germany's main opposition party and a former challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Monday he is withdrawing from politics temporarily to donate a kidney to his wife.

Steinmeier, parliamentary group leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) and a former foreign minister, said he would go to hospital later Monday to prepare for a donor operation this week for his wife of 15 years, Elke Buedenbender.

Buedenbender, a 48-year-old judge, is suffering from a serious kidney malfunction and her condition has worsened dramatically in recent weeks.

"I took the physicians' advice, which was that only an organ transplant can really help," a visibly shaken Steinmeier told reporters at a hastily called news conference.

"That is why I will not be active on the political stage for a few weeks."

Due to the long wait for a donor kidney, Steinmeier decided to offer himself as a living donor. The couple has a 14-year-old daughter.

Steinmeier, 54, said he hoped to return to work in October and tapped a veteran SPD deputy, Joachim Poss, to lead the parliamentary group for him in the interim.

The former minister assumed the leadership of the SPD parliamentary group last September when he lost a general election to Merkel.

After months plumbing record depths in the polls, the SPD has enjoyed a revival of late and last week moved ahead of Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc for the first time since she took office in 2005.

Merkel's centre-right government has seen its support plummet amid internal squabbling over taxes, energy policy and reform of the social welfare system.

© 2010 AFP

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