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German ex-president to give Saudi condolence visit

January 24, 2015

The German government says former President Christian Wulff will visit Saudi Arabia to give Germany's condolences on the death of King Abdullah. The choice is a slightly unusual one for Germany.

Former German President Christian Wulff Photo by Nigel Treblin/Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked ex-President Christian Wulff to officially represent Germany at a memorial ceremony for Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday, a government spokeswoman said Friday.

The spokeswoman gave no reason for the choice, which, according to the DPA news agency, was made after a series of phone calls between the president's office, Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

In Germany, it is unusual, but not unprecedented, for a former office holder to be entrusted with such a visit. The current president, Joachim Gauck, will be celebrating his 75th birthday on Saturday, a possible reason for his not being selected. Merkel herself is reportedly suffering from a heavy cold, while Steinmeier is visiting Algeria this weekend.

Wulff, 55, stepped down as president in 2012 under public pressure after federal prosecutors in the northern city of Hanover announced they would investigate him on suspicion of abuse of office over a home loan scandal. He was cleared of all charges in February last year.

Support for Islam

Merkel recently quoted a phrase Wulff used while in office - "Islam is part of Germany" - in her criticism of the "anti-Islamization" group PEGIDA, which has caused heated debate in Germany with its weekly protest marches.

King Abdullah died early on Friday at the age of about 90 of a lung infection and was buried in a simple ceremony in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the same day.

He has been succeeded by his half-brother, Salman.

The memorial ceremony on Saturday is expected to be attended by a number of world leaders, including French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Local Indian media reported on Saturday that US President Barack Obama will cut short his upcoming three-day visit to India to fly to Saudi Arabia next week, canceling a visit to the famed Taj Mahal on Tuesday.

The White House has since confirmed that Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

tj/jlw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)