Kohl's allies deny split

THEO WAIGEL, the German Finance Minister and leader of one of the ruling coalition parties, yesterday categorically denied talk of a crisis within his party, the CSU. Such suggestions were, he said, a 'primitive and gross invention'.

Other CSU politicians were quick to deny an alleged palace coup against the Bavarian Prime Minister, Edmund Stoiber. Horst Seehofer, the Health Minister, named as a possible heir apparent, said such talk was a 'carnival joke', while Mr Stoiber insisted he must stay in office for state and federal elections this year. 'Without this Prime Minister, it is certain the CSU cannot gain an absolute majority.'

Despite the closing of ranks, there has been embarrassment in the CSU - the Bavarian sister party of Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats - following revelations in the weekly magazine, Der Spiegel. The revelations have damaged the image of the late Franz Josef Strauss, a hero-figure for the conservative CSU, a party which has for decades ruled unchallenged in Bavaria, Germany's largest and most powerful state.

Mr Strauss's political heirs seem happy partly to disown Mr Strauss, if, by doing so, they can save their own skins. But the CSU cannot disentangle itself from Mr Strauss since it has made capital from his personality and perceived achievements.

Der Spiegel's allegations suggested Mr Strauss and his party had been financially propped up for years by the multi-millionaire Eduard Zwick, who is wanted in Germany for tax-dodging on a grand scale, and who lives in Switzerland.

The allegations - with details of Swiss bank accounts and Zwick- funded parties in the south of France - stirred up a hornets' nest in the CSU.

The real target of Mr Zwick's accusations is not Mr Strauss, who died in 1988, but his alive-and-kicking successors. Edmund Stoiber, who became Bavarian Prime Minister after the resignation last year of Max Streibl (involved in yet more corruption) has sought to create a Saubermann or 'Mr Clean' image in the past year. This included the arrest in January of Mr Zwick's son for allegedly assisting the tax evasion. Now, Mr Zwick - known as the 'bath king', because he made his millions from the creation of a spa clinic, based on hot springs - is determined to hit back. He argues the CSU owes him financially and politically, and is determined to call in those debts.

Thus, the aims of Mr Zwick and of Der Spiegel, not natural bedfellows, happen to coincide. Mr Zwick wants to embarrass the Bavarian leadership, to persuade them to take a more favourable view of his own case; Der Spiegel wants to embarrass them in the hope of perhaps gaining yet more political scalps.

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