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Köhler resignation blow to Merkel coalition

German president Horst Köhler added to the pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday when he resigned over his contentious remarks that the country’s military effort in Afghanistan protected German commercial interests.

The president’s resignation – the first of its kind in modern Germany – came after his comments drew widespread criticism in a largely pacifist country wary of the return of martial traits that inform its bloody past.

German President Horst Köhler Resigns

German President Horst Köhler, under fire for controversial comments he made about Germany’s mission in Afghanistan, resigned with immediate effect on Monday in a shock announcement that comes as the latest in a series of blows to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German President Horst Köhler announced his resignation on Monday in response to fierce criticism of comments he made about Germany’s military mission in Afghanistan.

“I declare my resignation from the office of president — with immediate effect,” Köhler, with tears in his eyes and speaking in a faltering voice, said in a statement, flanked by his wife Eva-Luise.

The president is the head of state and his duties are largely ceremonial. But the resignation is the latest in a string of setbacks for Chancellor Angela Merkel since her re-election last September. The German federal assembly — made up of parliamentary MPs and delegates appointed by the country’s 16 federal states — will have to vote for a successor to Köhler within 30 days, according to the federal constitution.

The president had become the target of intense criticism following remarks he made during a surprise visit to soldiers of the Bundeswehr German army in Afghanistan on May 22. In an interview with a German radio reporter who accompanied him on the trip, he seemed to justify his country’s military missions abroad with the need to protect economic interests.

“A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that … military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests — for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes,” Köhler said.