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German Economy Minister Gabriel clears way for new election challenger to Merkel

The SPD's Sigmar Gabriel has said he will not stand for chancellor in September's German elections. This clears the way for a new candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Deutschland SPD-Parteikonvent in Wolfsburg (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Stratenschulte)

Gabriel's decision to step down as SPD chairman leaves the door open for Martin Schulz to potentially take his place.

German media sources reported Tuesday that SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel had told party officials he would not run for chancellor against Angela Merkel in this year's elections.

Gabriel was reported by German daily "Die Zeit" as saying that he would put forward former European Parliament President Martin Schulz to take his place as SPD party chairman and candidate for chancellor.

While not confirming that he would take up the role, Martin Schulz commented via social media: "Today is a special day, which profoundly moved me. We want to win the election, to make people's lives better."

"Die Zeit" also reported that Gabriel would give up his role as Economy Minister and seek the Foreign Minister position, which is to be vacated by Frank-Walter Steinmeier in March.

Reports have suggested that Parliamentary State Secretary Brigitte Zypries is to take over Gabriel's position as Economics Minister.

In an interview with "Stern" magazine, Gabriel reportedly said: "If I was to step forward (for the chancellorship), I would fail and the SPD would fail with me." Schulz, Gabriel reportedly said, would "clearly stand a better chance of winning."

Germany's Environment Minister and SPD member Barbara Hendricks said she was surprised by Gabriel's decision, which she said he had made "from a position of strength."

However, polls have suggested that Gabriel has trailed badly behind Merkel in approval ratings.  

dm/jm (dpa, Reuters)