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Joachim Gauck departs from German presidency with military ceremony

Germany's president was given the highest military honors upon his departure as the country's head of state. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Gauck "never lost faith in our country."

In a farewell ceremony on Friday, departing German President Joachim Gauck was given the highest military honors in front of a crowd of 600 guests. Among the attendees were Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. Not in attendance was Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Washington for a belated meeting with President Donald Trump. The chancellor's US trip had been rescheduled when a storm hit the D.C. area earlier this week. Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel attended in her place.

Verabschiedung von Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck (picture alliance/dpa/B. Von Jutrczenka)

Defense Minister von der Leyen (left) was among the attendees at the departure ceremony

In an interview with the daily "Passauer Neue Presse," Gabriel praised Gauck's commitment to the country, saying that the parting president "never lost faith in our country and the commitment of his people to democracy and freedom."

Highest military honors

In line with traditional presidential departure ceremonies, Gauck was given a military ceremony with the highest honor outside the presidential residence of Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Germany's national military band accompanied the ceremony with three songs the president himself had chosen. Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and activist in the then East Germany democracy movement, chose a folk song, "Freedom, that I mean," a hymn by Martin Luther, "My god is a steady castle," and a pop hit by Karat, a band popular in the former East Germany called "Over Seven Bridges Must You Go." This song once brought the president to tears in a ceremony in September 2016. 

Verabschiedung von Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck (picture alliance/dpa/B. Von Jutrczenka)

Gauck was given the highest military honors at the ceremony outside Bellevue Palace

During his presidency, Gauck had fostered a close relationship with Germany's military. He had numerously visited soldiers stationed abroad, such as in Afghanistan and Mali, and called for a stronger German presence internationally, including a stronger military presence.

An outspoken president

Many political commentators viewed Gauck as unusually outspoken and influential in the largely ceremonial post of president. The former rights activist was known for stirring and inspiring speeches and as a clear critic of Russia's foreign policy. When he called the massacre of Armenians in Turkey genocide - long before the German parliament used the term, Gauck sparked a diplomatic scandal.

Despite high public approval ratings, the 77-year-old turned down a second five-year term as president, citing his age and waning energy.

He will be succeeded by former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (61), who was elected in mid-February by a large majority of the special federal assembly and will officially take over as German head of state on Sunday.

mb/sms (AFP, dpa)

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