Kohl wants leader from east Germany

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The Independent Online
BONN (Reuter) - Chancellor Helmut Kohl yesterday said Germany's next president should be an east German to symbolise unification. But Theo Waigel, the Finance Minister, said it was about time his Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) filled the post when President Richard von Weizsacker retires next May.

Mr Waigel, who is chairman of the CSU, sister party to Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU), dismissed speculation that he wanted to run himself.

Mr Kohl said the search for a popular candidate for the ceremonial but influential presidency had to start in the next few months. The president will be elected on 23 May by the Federal Assembly, made up of delegates from both houses of parliament.

'Because of the situation in Germany I regard it as extraordinarily important . . . that a personality from east Germany takes over this office,' the chancellor said an interview for ZDF television. He said electing an east German as president would not solve the problems of the region, but there was a point in getting a president whose life 'almost embodies 40 years of division of Germany'.

He named no favourites but is known to be having problems finding a suitable candidate in his own party to succeed Mr Weizsacker, a CDU member who has emerged as the moral conscience of a nation still troubled by its Nazi past. The only eastern candidate so far is Jens Reich, a leading civil rights campaigner in Communist East Germany. An outsider, he was put forward two months ago by a group of left-wing intellectuals as the candidate to bridge the gap between east and west in united Germany.

Mr Waigel said an eastern candidate should be considered but not under all circumstances. 'Presidential elections are very important decisions,' he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. 'They also amount to deciding on a political direction.'

He said it was only natural a CSU member take over the presidency after it had been held three times by the CDU, twice by the liberal Free Democrats and once by the Social Democrats. Neither Mr Waigel nor the Bavarian state premier, Edmund Stoiber, mentioned any names in pushing for the presidency to be held by the CSU, which is only represented in Bavaria.