President facing demands for explanation on his attempt to suppress a newspaper story about loans from wealthy friends.
|Wulff resigned a day after prosecutors asked parliament to lift his immunity from prosecution [Reuters]|
German President Christian Wulff has resigned from his position as head of state amid mounting criticism over a home loan scandal.
Wulff announced his immediate resignation on Friday, saying it was no longer possible for him to do his job with the full dedication it required.
“I am … today stepping down from the office of federal president to free up the way quickly for a successor,” he said in a televised statement from his Bellevue presidential palace.
Germany needed “a president that enjoys the trust of not only a majority, but a broad majority of citizens,” said Wulff, with his wife Bettina at his side.
“The developments of the last days and weeks have shown that this trust and therefore my effectiveness have been damaged.
“For this reason, it is no longer possible to carry out the office of president both domestically and abroad the way it needs to be done. I have made mistakes, but I was always honest,” he said.
Rome trip postponed
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, postponed a trip to Rome where she was to hold talks with Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, and made a brief statement after Wulff spoke, saying she regretted his departure.
Wulff was Merkel’s candidate for the presidency in 2010, and is from the same conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
“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. It’s a strength of this country and the rule of law here that everybody is treated the same.”
The announcement comes a day after prosecutors asked parliament to lift Wulff’s immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for an official investigation.
Wulff has been accused of improperly accepting benefits during his time as governor of Lower Saxony state.
The 52-year-old has been rocked by scandals and allegations since mid-December largely over his connections to wealthy businessmen, initially over an advantageous home loan from a friend’s wife.
He then faced claims he tried to hush up the story, as well as reports of free holidays accepted from friends.
‘Bowing to the inevitable’
Al Jazeera’s Nick Spicer, reporting from Berlin, said Merkel’s spokesman had remarked earlier on Friday that the chancellor was not opposed to the move to lift his immunity.
“He has bowed to the inevitable,” he said.
“This is the outcome we’ve been expecting since we heard [Merkel’s] spokesman say she was not opposed. This was pretty much something that seemed to have to happen.”
Our correspondent said Merkel’s handling of the case was an exercise in damage control over an issue that threatened to distract her from the eurozone crisis.
“We all know how she is the central player in the eurozone debt crisis,” he said.
“She cancelled a trip to Italy, which is one of the countries in trouble in that crisis. It’s fair to speculate she decided to stay to take care of a domestic problem.”
Following the announcement, Merkel said she would seek an agreement with Germany’s main opposition parties on a new head of state and expressed “deep regret” at his resignation.
She said the parties in her centre-right coalition would consult among themselves and then immediately approach the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.
“We want to conduct talks with the aim, in this situation, of being able to propose a joint candidate for the election of the next German president.”