Nazi row as German president appointed

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The Independent Online

A former head of the International Monetary Fund was elected Germany's ninth post-war president yesterday, despite a campaign marred by a bitter political row over the choice of a Nazi-era judge who was selected to back his candidature.

Horst Koehler, 61, the opposition conservative candidate, narrowly defeated Gesine Schwan, a university professor fielded by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's ruling Social Democrats. She had hoped to become the country's first woman president.

Mr Koehler, who replaces Johannes Rau, a Social Democrat, wants Germany to implement far more ambitious economic reforms than those so far embarked upon by Mr Schröder's ailing government.

His role is largely ceremonial, but previous presidents have influenced national policy and served as a voice of moral authority. "I consider that the complete reform of our country is not only necessary but long overdue," he said after his victory. "We have to face up to reality, Germany must fight for its place in the 21st century."

Mr Koehler was backed by 604 members of Germany's 1,204-strong assembly, a body made up of members of both Houses and special delegates selected by political parties. His victory was almost a foregone conclusion as conservatives hold a majority in the assembly which meets every five years to elect a president.

Mr Koehler's candidacy was nevertheless overshadowed by an angry political row that erupted after the Christian Democrats selected Hans Filbinger, 91, a former Nazi naval judge, to be one of the assembly's voting members.