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Germany

Premier of Brandenburg Quits Abruptly

Just days after Germany's president accused him of damaging the public's trust in the country's political institutions, Brandenburg Premier Manfred Stolpe called it quits Saturday.

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After 12 years in office, Manfred Stolpe calls it a day.

Manfred Stolpe, the Social Democrat premier of the eastern German state of Brandenburg said on Saturday that he would resign from his elected office immediately.

The move brings to an end Stolpe's 12-year term in office that spanned the country's period of reunification. Mr. Stolpe told party members at a rally on Saturday in Wittenberge that he was stepping down in favour of Matthias Platzeck, a local politician whose name comes up often as a possible cabinet-level appointment if Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is reelected in September. Mr. Platzeck could be appointed as the state's interim premier as early as next week.

Matthias Platzeck

Matthias Platzeck

During his political career as Brandenburg's premier, Stolpe has switched parties like musical chairs. At one point, he ruled with Alliance '90/The Greens, but he later also served as a member of the Free Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union before recently settling with the Social Democrats. His heir apparent, the 48-year-old head of the state party, Platzeck (photo), is a native son of Brandenburg and also serves as mayor of Potsdam.

Tired of office?

Recently, Stolpe has spoken repeatedly about having grown tired of his office. And not without reason.

Just last week, German President Johannes Rau criticized Stolpe for his role in the disputed vote on Germany's first-ever immigration law in the country's upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat. As he signed the controversial bill into law on Thursday, Rau said it had been passed under dubious circumstances. In his speech, he also specifically named Stolpe and the state's Christian Democrat interior minister, Jörg Schönbohm, as having damaged the reputation of German politics and public trust in the Bundesrat.

Stolpe responded by saying that Rau's rebuke was something he didn't take lightly. But in Wittenberge, he also reflected critically on the state of the SPD's national leadership.

An historic turning point for the party

Despite their fight over the immigration law, even Schönbohm lamented Stolpe's resignation on Saturday. He said Stolpe had informed him of his decision earlier and that he had accepted it with respect. Schönbohm also said his party was prepared to accept Platzeck as the state's new premier and that calling for new elections, as the Free Democrats and Party of Democratic Socialism have asked for, was not necessary before the next state parliamentary vote in 2004.

Chancellor Schröder is reported to be fond of Stolpe's likely successor, Platzeck, and has apparently tapped him for a possible future cabinet appointment. He first joined the party in 1995 after a brief stint with Alliance '90, which he left because of its merger with the Greens. He also served as Brandenburg's environment minister - first as an independent and later as a Social Democrat.

Flooding his way to political fame

Platzeck became a popular subject in the media in 1997 during the massive flooding of the Oder River. He could often be seen in interviews in rubber boots while helping to reinforce levees and dykes that were holding the swelling river back. The next year, voters elected him as Potsdam's mayor.

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