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Politics

Merkel makes overture to opposition as president-of-choice quits

Angela Merkel has said that Germany's ruling coalition will approach the main opposition to find a president they can all agree on. The outgoing president's resignation was a blow to the chancellor.

Merkel had words of praise on Friday for the president she heaved into office just two years before he resigned over allegations he improperly granted or accepted favors.

"I have - with the greatest respect and deep personal regret - accepted the resignation of the president," Merkel said in a live television broadcast, looking somber.

"During his time in office, Christian Wulff worked with all his energy for a modern, open Germany," she said. "He made it clear to us that the strength of this country lies in its diversity."

Merkel lauded Wulff for putting the office of president above his conviction that he had behaved correctly during his term.

President Wulff's unraveling

Then she turned her attention to the question of the next officeholder: "We want to hold talks with the aim of being able to propose a joint candidate for the next president of the Federal Republic of Germany."

Wulff's resignation is a blow to the chancellor, as he was her candidate of choice. "This won't be without consequences for Merkel, her reputation will suffer from it," said Gerd Langguth, political expert at Bonn University.

Wulff's resignation comes at a time when Merkel is trying to take the lead in the eurozone's efforts to contain the debt crisis. It may not scupper her ambitions, "however, domestic political pressure on Angela Merkel could increase again and will not make her life any easier," Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING said.

Search for a successor

It came as no surprise to political observers that the parties in the center-right coalition would consult with the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens. After all, the fallen president - and his predecessor - had been Merkel's chosen candidate and won the position only thanks to the backing of the coalition parties.

Her announcement was welcomed by the two parties.

"The SPD is ready for a new beginning," Social Democrat chief Sigmar Gabriel told Bild.de, adding that Merkel better not plan to approach the opposition once she pushed though her own candidate of choice within the coalition.

Greens leader Cem Özdemir said that the aim should be to find a candidate who has broad support.

That sentiment was echoed by Klaus Ernst, head of the third-largest opposition party, the Left party, which Merkel did not include in her remarks.

"We now need a president who is accepted and supported by all parties," he said, stressed that it was not the time for party squabbling. Merkel and most of her fellow conservatives reject cooperation with the Left party, the successor of the East German communist party.

Merkel will meet for talks on Saturday with her coalition partners from the Bavarian arm of her party, the Christian Social Union, and the Free Democrats, to discuss the issue of a successor.

German presidents are elected by a special "Federal Convention," which exists expressly for that purpose. The body, which is made up of over 1,200 parliamentarians and other representatives of society, must select a new president within 30 days of a head of state's resignation.

ncy, ng/db (Reuters, dpa, dapd)

Chronology of Wulff's resignation

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