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Germany

German Interior Minister de Maiziere steps into defense breach

Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maiziere has been named successor to Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg following his high-profile resignation as defense minister.

Thomas de Maiziere

de Maiziere is one of the few political heavyweights who could have succeeded Guttenberg

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has been named as new defense minister a day after the sensational resignation of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg from the post following weeks of pressure over a plagiarism scandal.

Hans-Peter Friedrich, who headed the committee for the Christian Social Union (CSU), is to move into the cabinet to take over de Maiziere's role in the Interior Ministry. The post of defense minister had previously been promised to the CSU, and the cabinet reshuffle has taken place in order to guarantee the CSU another major portfolio.

The German government was scrambling Wednesday to come to terms with Guttenberg’s resignation after he became embroiled in weeks of scandal over allegations of plagiarism in his Ph.D. thesis.

During a campaign rally in Baden-Württemberg state late Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel shot back at the opposition, saying that critics did not want to strengthen academic values, but instead had sought to undermine her Christian Democrat party (CDU) and its Bavarian sister-party, the CSU - of which Guttenberg is a member - by launching a tirade against her defense minister.

Merkel said the CDU should not let anyone tell them what integrity and honor means. "Rarely has Germany seen so much self-righteousness and dishonesty," the chancellor said.

Angela Merkel with Guttenberg

Merkel was criticized for her defense of Guttenberg

The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, praised the criticism of Guttenberg that came from within the CDU and kept up the growing barrage of follow-on attacks on Merkel over her handling of the affair. He told the Passauer Neue Presse regional newspaper that Merkel's conduct throughout the affair had trivialized the importance of political office.

"Angela Merkel has given the impression that government members are above the law," he said.

CDU parliamentary leader Peter Altmaier came to the chancellor’s defense over her handling of the Guttenberg affair, telling public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk she "acted very wisely and led strongly."

Cabinet shake-up on the cards

Ironically, the loss of Guttenberg from Merkel's cabinet is likely to have an adverse effect on the popularity of a government that has struggled for widespread support since being reelected in 2009.

Guttenberg, 39, was seen as one of the most popular politicians in Germany, and was tipped as a future chancellor.

Sigmar Gabriel

Opposition leader Gabriel has kept up attacks on Merkel

New Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich had earlier tried to talk down comments that his CSU party was ill-equipped to replace the high-profile Guttenberg.

He went on to attack the intense criticism leveled at Guttenberg by opposition groups, which he labeled "immoderate and hateful." He held out hopes that Guttenberg's political career was not at an end, saying he believed "he is still the one for many people."

According to a poll by public broadcaster ARD, only a slim majority of 53 percent of respondents thought Guttenberg should have resigned his post.

However, a much lower percentage polled believed Guttenberg should not return to the political arena, while some 72 percent said they thought he should make a comeback in the future.

Ongoing investigation

Hans-Peter Friedrich

Hans-Peter Friedrich has not confirmed whether he was considering the defense portfolio

Meanwhile, the president of the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers, Bernhard Kempen, has said academia was relieved to hear of Guttenberg's resignation.

"It would have been bad if the impression had hardened that lies and deception pervaded academia and that this remained without consequences for one's professional career," he told the Rheinische Post daily. "We were outraged by the marginalization of academia."

Ruediger Bormann, president of Bayreuth University, told the Berliner Zeitung daily that Guttenberg's decision to step down took some pressure off the university's investigatory commission.

Bormann said the commission would carefully investigate all the accusations of plagiarism against Guttenberg.

"In my view it is not a foregone conclusion," Bormann said. "In contrast, it's a debatable question."

Bormann added that the results of the commission's investigation could be of interest to the public prosecutor.

Author: Darren Mara, Spencer Kimball (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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