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Merkel Backs Rights Activist for President of Germany

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to support former East German rights activist Joachim Gauck to replace Christian Wulff as president of Germany. Her backing comes in an effort to avoid distraction in coping with the ongoing eurozone debt crisis, but domestic upset may still intrude.

Gauck, according to a Monday Reuters report, had been the choice of many Germans and of opposition parties in the country after the departure of Horst Koehler from the presidency, but Merkel had chosen Wulff as his successor. Wulff resigned as president last week, as previously reported by, in the midst of a financial scandal. At the time of his taking office, there were accusations that he did not have the experience or profile the job required.

Gauck is a Protestant pastor and figured prominently in the peaceful protests that brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is expected to be confirmed in office without any difficulty by the 1,244-member Assembly, which must vote on the matter by March 18. While Merkel’s party preferred other candidates, Merkel herself threw her support behind Gauck after the coalition partner party the Free Democrats backed him on Sunday.

But the German newspaper Bild was cited reporting that the government actually came close to collapse over the Free Democrats’ support of Gauck before Merkel reluctantly gave in. On Monday, Merkel’s party termed the Free Democrats’ support of Gauck a “massive breach of trust” that would color any future cooperation between the two parties. Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder of the Christian Social Union party accused the Free Democrats of “extortion.”

Merkel is steering the countries of the eurozone through the mechanics of a rescue package for Greece and cannot afford distractions at home, although her support of Gauck could be seen as admission of an error in backing Wulff for the post previously. If she did not back him, a drawn-out struggle with opposition political parties could draw her attention away from the negotiations in the financial crisis. As it stands, she may face difficulties within her own coalition.

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