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German government, opposition agree on new president

By Juergen Baetz

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19 2012 1:55 p.m. MST

The Feb. 17, 2012 photo shows Joachim Gauck during a lecture in Koblenz, western Germany. On Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 Germany's coalition government and the main opposition agreed on Gauck as joint presidential candidate.

dapd, Torsten Silz, Associated Press

BERLIN — Germany's government and the two major opposition parties said Sunday they would jointly nominate former East German human rights activist Joachim Gauck to be the country's next president.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said her center-right coalition government, and the center-left opposition rallied behind the Gauck, who was initially proposed by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

Christian Wulff, 52, quit as president Friday after two months of allegations he received favors such as a favorable loan, and hotel stays from friends when he was state governor of Lower Saxony. He was Merkel's candidate when elected less than two years ago, triumphing at that time over Gauck, 72, in a messy election.

When Wulff resigned, Merkel immediately said she would work with the Social Democrats and Greens to find a consensus candidate to succeed him.

Germany's head of state holds a largely ceremonial role. The incumbent typically uses his moral authority, standing above party politics, to influence debates in society and politics.

The new president will be elected by a special assembly next month, but with cross-party backing, the process should be a formality.

In the meantime, the speaker of parliament's upper house, conservative Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, has taken over the presidential duties on an interim basis, mostly signing legislation into law.

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