Bavarian leader agrees to resign

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ONLY YESTERDAY did Max Streibl, Bavaria's embattled Prime Minister, finally acknowledge he was ready to resign. Already before the announcement however, he was being treated as history.

The mass-circulation Bild newspaper yesterday became the latest to insist that Theo Waigel, the German Finance Minister, would abandon Bonn in order to occupy the No 1 spot in the Bavarian capital, Munich. The newspaper's front-page headline declared, categorically, 'Waigel goes', and pointed out that he would be the 19th minister to resign from Helmut Kohl's government.

In Munich, however, the battle over succession was not yet over. There was vocal support for an alternative candidate; the Bavarian interior minister, Edmund Stoiber. Mr Streibl, who succeeded the charismatic Franz Josef Strauss as leader of Germany's largest and most powerful region, had hung on desperately to power until the last moment. He had to be finished off with a few killer blows from his own party, the CSU - the Bavarian sister party of Mr Kohl's ruling Christian Democrats.

In recent months, there had been constant accusations against Mr Streibl in connection with what became known as the Amigo affair - free hospitality and free flights at the expense of a Bavarian aircraft manufacturer, including holidays on his luxurious Brazilian estate.

The allegations had badly damaged the CSU. But - as with so many of the other recent political casualties - part of the problem was with Mr Streibl himself: even his Bavarian comrades perceived him as having too little charisma for the job in hand. But, as one senior member of the CSU noted when the Amigo allegations were first published, 'We don't like regicide.'

None the less, Mr Streibl received only lukewarm support from within the party. Chancellor Kohl can ill afford to lose his Finance Minister, especially at such a difficult time for the economy and the government.

But Mr Waigel's party obligations may come first. As leader of the CSU, he may have little choice if he is told to come home. He had always said he did not wish to stay in Bonn for ever - though he has, until now, shown few signs of being eager to move back to Munich so quickly.

Meanwhile, Mr Stoiber, CSU deputy leader, has made it clear he is not ready willingly to cede the prize he believes is rightfully his. Officially, his argument is that Mr Waigel, as party leader, is indispensable at the heart of national politics, in Bonn. He suggests he is well qualified to be the new Bavarian boss, if Mr Waigel stays away. Many CSU deputies in the Bavarian parliament yesterday seemed ready to back Mr Stoiber.