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Politics

Scandal tests Merkel's coalition cabinet

Fellow Bavarians have given a German ex-cabinet minister a standing ovation following his resignation. Hans-Peter Friedrich quit amid a scandal straining Chancellor Angela Merkel's new coalition.

Conservative allies of Merkel meeting in Bavaria on Saturday rebuked center-left Social Democrat (SPD) leaders in her new cabinet, demanding clarification on how they had handled an October tip-off from Friedrich that prompted him to resign on Friday.

Friedrich's secret warning while Merkel was busy forming her future cabinet allegedly interfered with a looming investigation by prosecutors.

The focus of the alleged scandal is Sebastian Edathy, a former SPD politician who quit his Bundestag seat a week ago, denying importing illegal pornographic child photos from Canada in past years.

'Definitely legal'

The Spiegel news magazine quoted Edathy on Saturday as saying information that his name had emerged in an international probe, which was conveyed by Friedrich to SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel in October, never reached him via SPD circles.

Instead, Edathy said he had reacted to press reports in November about a "firm in Canada" from which "some years ago" he had ordered "definitely legal" material. He had mandated his lawyer to make "preventative" contact with German authorities.

The former parliamentarian also rejected media claims that evidence had been destroyed before police searches of his premises last Monday.

"The state prosecution service has completely lost it bearings," said Edathy, referring to investigators in Hanover, in his home state of Lower Saxony in northern Germany.

Ovation for Friedrich

The Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) party, at a conference in Bamberg on Saturday, gave a standing ovation to Friedrich, who was still federal interior minister when he informed Gabriel during Germany's post-September election phase.

"You have the solidarity of the whole party," CSU leader Horst Seehofer told Friedrich, who until Friday had been the new agriculture minister in Merkel's new grand coalition cabinet.

Seehofer accused top SPD leaders of breaking confidence through "talkativeness."

Friedrich told the CSU conference that in October there were no criminally relevant proceedings against Edathy, but that the information was "politically relevant" during the phase when Gabriel and Merkel were negotiating their future coalition.

He accused another SPD figure, the SPD's new parliamentary caucus leader Thomas Oppermann, of making the investigation against Edathy public.

The CSU's caucus leader in the federal Bundestag parliament, Gerda Hasselfeldt, said Friedrich through his resignation had in effect "deflected damage from the SPD."

No more to say, says SPD

On Saturday, the SPD's new general secretary Yasmin Fahimi said: "The SPD has said everything on its role." Gabriel had earlier said he regretted Friedrich's resignation.

On Tuesday, the leaders of Merkel's conservatives, including her Bavarian partners, and the Social Democrats hold what are expected to be tense coalition committee consultations in Berlin.

ipj/tj (dpa, Reuters)

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