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Former German President Wulff on trial in Hanover

Former German President Christian Wulff has gone on trial, denying that he accepted financial favors in 2008 as premier of Lower Saxony regional state. Also facing trial in Hanover is a movie producer friend.

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Former German president goes on trial

Germany for the first time put on trial on Thursday one of its former presidents. Christian Wulff, who stepped down last year, chose to defend his name instead of paying a 20,000-euro ($27,000) fine to settle with prosecutors.

Entering Hanover's regional courthouse on Thursday, Wullf said he had "always behaved correctly," adding that he was "certain" that he would dispel "the one remaining allegation."

In 2010, Wulff, a conservative once closely allied with Chancellor Angela Merkel, became at the age of 51 Germany's youngest head of state.

Sleaze allegations emerged in December 2011, sparking extensive German media scrutiny.

At Thursday's trial opening, prosecutors had trimmed allegations down to a single charge.

The ex-president and trained jurist stands accused of letting producer David Groenewold play a 719-euro hotel bill for Wulff and his wife - now separated - when they visited Munich's Oktoberfest beer festival in 2008.

Groenewold denies a charge of "conferring an advantage on a public official." Like Wulff, he rejected a fine - amounting to 30,000 euros - to settle the case.

Verdict due in April

Proceedings were interrupted shortly into Thursday's opening when Groenewold's lawyers claimed that too many media representatives were seated in the courtroom's public area.

Hanover's regional court has allotted 22 trial days through to next April. A total of 46 witnesses are to be summoned, including public figures.

Prosecutors allege that the film producer wanted Wulff to persuade the Munich-based engineering giant Siemens to sponsor one of Groenewold's feature films.

The Hannover court has accredited 70 reporters from Germany and abroad to cover the four months of proceedings.

Opinions split

Public opinion in Germany has been split on whether the former head of state really needed to quit or fell victim to media coverage and an overzealous prosecution.

Initially, Wulff had faced claims that he received holiday perks and a cheap home loan when he was premier of Lower Saxony state. Hannover is the regional capital.

Wulff stepped down in February 2012 preempting prosecutors who had sought the lifting of his constitutional immunity and searched his home near Hannover

He then stayed largely out of the public eye. He and his wife Bettina later separated.

'Islam belongs too'

While president, Wulff drew criticism from conservatives when in 2010 he said that although Christianity and Judaism were German traditions, "Islam now belongs in Germany too."

Now in the largely ceremonial post of German president is Joachim Gauck, formerly a Protestant pastor and rights activist in former communist East Germany.

ipj/mkg (dpa, AFP)

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