Farewell for ex-German president marred by prominent absences | News | DW | 08.03.2012
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Farewell for ex-German president marred by prominent absences

A military parade has performed its final salute to Christian Wulff. But even the traditional farewell ceremony was marked by the former president's untimely and controversial departure.

A traditional torch-lit military parade officially bade a farewell from office to ex-president Christian Wulff Thursday evening in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel and members of her cabinet turned out for the farewell ceremony at the presidential residence, Bellevue Palace, but notable absences underlined the controversy surrounding Wulff's departure.

None of his four living predecessors in the post - Walter Scheel, Richard von Weizsäcker, Roman Herzog and Horst Köhler - attended the ceremony, nor did his designated successor, Joachim Gauck. No leading member of the opposition Social Democrats and the Green party appeared.

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Farewell Ceremony for Christian Wulff

Around 200 demonstrators could be heard in the background blowing whistles and vuvuzelas in protest. The noise could be heard clearly when the military band was not playing.

Earlier, top Green party politician Renate Künast accused Wulff of going forth with the military parade "so that his departure looks halfway decent. With that he damages the Bundeswehr," she told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily.

Resignation over controversy

Wulff stepped down on February 17, just hours after public prosecutors in Hanover announced their intention to have his immunity from prosecution lifted so they could investigate allegations that he had wrongly given or received favors while he was premier of the state of Lower Saxony.

Wulff used his farewell speech to encourage young people to get involved in politics and said he himself would remain active.

He made only one reference to his resignation: "I had imagined this occasion for the year 2015. It happened differently."

At Wulff's request the band played "Over the Rainbow."

The military parade held for Wulff is regarded as a special honor and is reserved for outgoing German presidents, chancellors and defense ministers.

However, the circumstances of Wulff's resignation led many to question whether he was worthy of the ceremony.

Investigation into 'favors'

The former president first came under pressure late last year, after the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported that Wulff had accepted a 500,000-euro ($659,000) mortgage at favorable conditions from the wife of a wealthy businessman. When asked by the Lower Saxony assembly whether he had any ties to the businessman in question, Wulff said he did not.

Demonstrators protest outside the ceremony

Protesters could be heard at the outdooor ceremony

The controversy grew when it emerged weeks later that Wulff had left an angry message on the voice mail of the newspaper's editor-in-chief to demand Bild not publish the story.

The decision by prosecutors to seek to have his immunity lifted came after they found evidence to warrant an "initial suspicion" that he had improperly accepted benefits from or granted them to a film-producer friend. Wulff denied allegations that this friend had paid for a stay at a luxury hotel in 2007.

There has also been controversy about the fact that the 52-year-old Wulff is to receive an annual stipend of 199,000 euros ($262,000), despite the circumstances of his resignation and the fact that he was in office for less than two years.

The military parade held for Wulff is regarded as a special honor and is reserved for outgoing German presidents, chancellors and defense ministers.

However, the circumstances of Wulff's resignation led many to question whether he was worthy of the ceremony.

ncy/sjt (dpa, Reuters)

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