Kohl choice for president under fire

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The Independent Online
BONN - Helmut Kohl's preferred candidate to become German president next year looks increasingly likely to bring little but political embarrassment, with mounting opposition on all sides - including within Mr Kohl's own party, writes Steve Crawshaw.

There was yet more criticism yesterday of Steffen Heitmann, Justice Minister of the east German state of Saxony, who Chancellor Kohl and the Christian Democrats have officially declared to be the best successor to Richard von Weizsacker, who retires as president next May.

Peter-Michael Diestel, Christian Democrat interior minister in the first and last democratically elected east German government, in the months before German unity, yesterday complained of Mr Heitmann's 'old-fashioned and outdated conservatism'. Mr Heitmann's statements on issues - including the role of women and German attitudes to the Holocaust - have been hugely controversial.

Meanwhile, Mr Kohl's coalition partners, the Free Democrats, agreed yesterday to propose a candidate of their own, the 72-year-old Hildegard Hamm-Brucher. The Free Democrats originally wanted Hans-Dietrich Genscher, by far the most popular candidate, but he has insisted that he will not stand.

Criticism from the opposition Social Democrats has been more or less predictable. Much more damning, however, has been criticism from within the Christian Democrats' own ranks. Friedbert Pfluger, a Christian Democrat and former presidential spokesman, set the cat among the party pigeons by publishing a devastating attack on Mr Heitmann in this week's Die Zeit.

Mr Kohl had argued that an east German should be appointed. But, Mr Pfluger suggests, 'Steffen Heitmann does not integrate, he polarises. Each of his statements unleashes controversy.'