Twin resignations batter crisis-weary Merkel

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, battered from all sides for her response to Europe's economic crisis, was in more hot water Tuesday after the second high-profile resignation within a week.

Only six days after Roland Koch, the outspoken premier of Hesse, home to banking capital Frankfurt, stepped down, President Horst Koehler shocked Germany Monday with an emotional resignation. Both moves came out of the blue.

Analysts said the loss of two heavyweights from her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was a fresh headache for the Merkel, already suffering from plunging popularity ratings less than a year into a second term.

"She has lost Koch, she is losing Koehler, who is not very important in terms of political power, but it is symbolic and it could create some panic," political scientist Nils Diederich from Berlin's Free University told AFP.

"If she doesn't manage to get a grip on her political agenda in the coming weeks, she is not going to serve out her full term," he added.

Merkel, 55, said she "wholeheartedly" regretted Koehler's resignation and admitted she would miss the advice of the former head of the International Monetary Fund, particularly on economic and financial issues.

And she now finds herself having to identify, within 30 days, a candidate for the largely ceremonial post who would be acceptable to all sides of her squabbling coalition of conservatives and pro-business Free Democrats.

"Koehler's resignation in the midst of the euro-crisis could push Angela Merkel's ... coalition into severe difficulties," commented influential mass circulation daily Bild.

"Merkel has already lost CDU-mentor Roland Koch. This is another serious setback," the paper added.

However, another political analyst, Lothar Probst, from the University of Bremen, played down the consequences for Merkel, stressing that "for the moment, no one is calling for her to step down."

"If she can bring some calm to the coalition, she can still finish her term without too much damage," he told AFP.

But the resignations represented the latest in a string of political reverses both at home and abroad for Merkel, last year voted Forbes magazine's most powerful woman for the fourth consecutive time.

Domestically, she lost a key regional election on May 9 that cost her the majority in Germany's upper house.

Further afield, she has been slammed for what is seen as a hesitant response to the fiscal crisis in Greece and faces a flood of fiscal red ink herself that may mean she has to raise taxes after campaigning on a promise to cut them.

Meanwhile, 39 German soldiers have died since 2002 in Afghanistan in a mission that is bitterly unpopular in the country.

It was Afghanistan that caused the resignation of the 67-year-old Koehler after he came under fire for comments about Germany's overseas military action in which he appeared to justify the mission in terms of commercial gain.

As for Koch, he said he was stepping down to work in the private sector, denying furiously that he was leaving due to a spat with Merkel, whose meteoric rise is widely seen to have caused resentment in the 52-year-old.

After Koehler stepped down, Merkel said: "I think that the German people will be very sad about this resignation."

And according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkel too has reason to be sad.

Koehler's "act of desperation" in resigning "does not augur well for the future of this coalition," the influential daily said in an editorial.

© 2010 AFP

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