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Politics

Under pressure, German president to respond to mounting criticism

German President Christian Wulff is confronted with fast-waning support over allegations he tried to hush up a home loan scandal. He is said to respond to the allegations in a television interview later on Wednesday.

Christian Wulff

Fit for office no more? German President Christian Wulff

Support for embattled German President Christian Wulff crumbled Wednesday, with the media united against him, key backers silent, and his political home base disappointed. But Wulff, returning from his Christmas holiday said he would remain in office, despite the allegations against him.

German public broadcaster ARD, quoting unnamed sources, reported on Wednesday that the embattled president routinely published his schedule through January 12. The president is to respond to the allegations swirling around him in a television interview later on Wednesday evening.

Christian Wulff

Wulff can't dodge calls to explain himself much longer

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been silent about the revelations that Wulff attempted to lean on the media to hush up a home loan scandal. The Free Democrats (FDP), the junior partners in Merkel's coalition, say it is up to the president to set the record straight. "I am confident he will succeed," designated FDP Secretary General Patrick Döring said on Tuesday.

A Stern magazine poll published on Wednesday found that nearly two-thirds of Germans remain satisfied with Wulff's job performance, regardless of all the media hype. Some 63 percent said he was doing a good job, while 30 percent expressed dissatisfaction.

Wulff has been hit by accusations that he intervened to try to stop revelations by the mass circulation newspaper Bild last month over a personal loan he received from the wife of a tycoon friend.

He left a furious message on the voicemail of Bild editor Kai Diekmann, threatening legal action. He reportedly also contacted the chief executive of Bild's publishing house Axel Springer and its main shareholder.

It is not the first time the German president tried to suppress a media report; in June 2011, Wulff is said to have tried to make the Welt am Sonntag newspaper drop a story about his half-sister.

Wulff's house

The crisis began with reports on a private home loan and cheap interest rates

Precarious position

Support from Wulff's power base in Lower Saxony, where he was state premier, is also draining away. Karl-Heinz Klare, deputy leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU) in the state assembly, said many of the president's party friends have "expressed disappointment over his behavior."

Opposition leaders have held back from demanding outright that Wulff resign, but after the Bild revelations, his position looks precarious.

Senior SPD politician Thomas Oppermann said time has run out for Wulff. "The grace period is over," Oppermann said. "No German president is above the law. That applies to press freedom, too.

It is absolutely inappropriate if the president is trying to stop free reporting," he said.

'Shocking impudence'

Hubertus Heil, the deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said it was time Chancellor Merkel spoke out on the matter.

"Enough is enough," said Ulrich Maurer, deputy head of the Left Party's parliamentary group. He said the president must suffer the consequences of his behavior.

A resignation would reflect badly on Merkel because she pushed for his election over a popular opposition candidate in 2010 after his predecessor, Horst Köhler, suddenly stepped down midway through his term. Finding a successor could also prove a headache at a time when Merkel's government must show unity and resolve in combating the eurozone crisis.

Former German President Horst Köhler and his wife Eva Luise Köhler, and new German President Christian Wullf and his wife Bettina Wulff

Wulff's predecessor Horst Köhler quit abruptly in mid-2010

'A plethora of mistakes'

The German media was unanimous in criticizing Wulff for attempting to gag the freedom of the press.

The Financial Times Deutschland said Wulff is not up to the job of German president. "There have been so many such trifles for Christian Wulff recently that it is becoming a worrying and slowly unbearable whole," the paper wrote. "Everything taken together, it's slowly becoming too much ... his credibility has been hit by this plethora of mistakes."

Stefan Aust, a former editor of Der Spiegel weekly, said Wulff appeared to be on a "political suicide mission".

The president has made no comment on the new revelations, saying Monday through a spokesman he does not discuss private phone calls.

Author: Dagmar Breitenbach (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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