Merkel coalition under strain over conservative minister's ouster

Sat Feb 15, 2014 7:31am EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN Feb 15 (Reuters) - Conservative allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked their Social Democrat governing partner on Saturday over actions that led to the ouster of a minister, deepening concern about the future of her two-month-old "grand coalition".

Friday's resignation of Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, the latest in a series of cabinet departures under Merkel, could aggravate tensions in Berlin's coalition at a time when it is trying to push through complex reforms of pensions and renewable energy.

Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, arch-conservative wing of Merkel's Christian Democrats, demanded explanations from the Social Democrats after CSU member Friedrich quit over accusations he leaked confidential data.

The information derived from a prosecutor's investigation into an SPD lawmaker suspected of possessing child pornography. The lawmaker, Sebastian Edathy, has denied the accusations.

Merkel's governing "grand coalition" is under serious strain and could even be in jeopardy if the scandal undermines the position of SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who was tipped off about the investigation by then-interior Friedrich in October.

What began as a small domestic scandal about Edathy erupted into a major political furore when the SPD said Friedrich had warned Gabriel that Edathy could become a target of an investigation.

That raised questions whether Friedrich had inappropriately passed on confidential information about the looming investigation to Gabriel in violation of the law. Gabriel said he alerted two other SPD leaders.

Friedrich was on his way home to Bavaria on Friday when Merkel called him and told him to return to Berlin to announce his resignation, the Bild and die Welt newspapers reported.   Continued...