Powerful Merkel rival in surprise resignation

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A powerful rival of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a big-hitting regional baron in her conservative party announced his surprise resignation on Tuesday, but denied it was due to any spat.

Roland Koch said he would step down as premier of the western state of Hesse, home to Germany's banking capital Frankfurt, in August and quit as deputy chair of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in November.

"I am not quitting because of any disagreement, either in the state or in Berlin," the white-haired Koch, 52, told reporters, saying that after more than a decade as premier it was "time for a change."

The sharp-tongued and ambitious Koch, like Merkel, was a protege of former chancellor Helmut Kohl, and was widely seen as being resentful of the meteoric rise to power of the east German pastor's daughter.

This month Koch, a trained lawyer and the son of a politician, called for cuts in education spending in order to help cut Germany's ballooning deficit, but the proposals were slapped down by Merkel.

Koch was also floated as a possible successor to Wolfgang Schaeuble as finance minister after health problems causing the latter to miss several key international meetings sparked speculation he might quit.

© 2010 AFP

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