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Europeans race to nominate Strauss-Kahn successor

European leaders raced today to nominate a successor for fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn before a G8 summit next week, with French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde in pole position.

As Europe rallied around Lagarde as their most likely choice for the top job at the International Monetary Fund, which has always gone to a European, the man most widely tipped as a candidate from among emerging economies ruled himself out.

"Speculation about succession at the IMF has included me in the group of persons with relevant experience. But I have not been, and will not be, a candidate," said former Turkish economy minister Kemal Dervis in a statement.

Strauss-Kahn is due to leave jail today and be placed under round-the-clock house arrest after being indicted for the alleged attempted rape of a New York hotel maid last Saturday.

The man once seen as a possible next president of France denies the charges and has vowed to prove his innocence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel all but endorsed Lagarde, telling a Berlin news conference: "Among the names mentioned for the IMF succession is French Minister Christine Lagarde, whom I rate highly."

But diplomats said some European Union countries questioned whether the highly regarded corporate lawyer, who would be the first woman to head the IMF, could be anointed before a special court decides next month if she should be investigated in a French legal case.

Since Strauss-Kahn resigned on Wednesday, EU governments have rushed to find a European replacement before emerging nations, which have long demanded a bigger say in running the Washington-based global lender, can mount a bid for the job.

Asian, Middle Eastern and African diplomats at IMF headquarters said emerging nations were seeking a consensus candidate, a task made harder by Dervis' decision not to run.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs euro zone finance ministers, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi endorsed Lagarde yesterday.