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Ex-IMF chief to run for German president
Updated: 2004-03-05 09:08

International Monetary Fund chief Horst Koehler said Thursday he was quitting to accept the conservative nomination for the German presidency.

Koehler, 61, told reporters in Washington that he wanted to bring his experience in national and international affairs to the mostly ceremonial post.

"I believe that I am up to the challenge and that with my professional national and international experience will be able to bring something to the office that Germany needs now," he said.

Since the conservative parties hold a majority in the assembly that chooses the next president on May 23, nomination virtually assures Koehler of winning the largely ceremonial post.

While Germany's president has little direct say in politics, the position nevertheless has a great deal of political influence. The nomination puts Koehler at the center of fresh attacks on Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's economic record and his struggle to trim costly social programs.

"We know we need international experience. We know Germany has fallen behind," Angela Merkel, head of the main opposition Christian Democratic party, told reporters.

"It is essential today to embody the courage and the opportunities of 80 million people, to lend them a voice that says: This country can do better."

Koehler worked for more than a decade in the German Finance Ministry under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who once called him "a treasure" and relied on him in economic diplomacy.

A Christian Democrat, Koehler has criticized Germany's resistance to economic reforms in the past.

Although relatively unknown to most Germans, Koehler helped draft the legal framework for Europe's single currency, the euro, and played a key role in negotiating German reunification in 1990. He later was president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Koehler took the lead at the IMF in 2000 after a bitter trans-Atlantic battle in which the United States rejected Germany's first choice for the job.

At the time, some officials and business executives questioned whether he was up to leading a major financial organization. But U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow praised Koehler's tenure.

"He transformed the institution in terms of its transparency ... and worked to develop better crisis prevention tools and more effective crisis management," Snow said.

Koehler said Anne Krueger, an American and one of his deputies, will be acting managing director of the 183-nation international financial institution until the IMF's board names a successor.

"I accepted the nomination with `a laughing and a crying eye,' as we say in German," Koehler said. "I fully expected to stay at the IMF and continue working on our unfinished agenda."

On Thursday, Germany's Christian Democrats and Free Democrats said they had settled on Koehler as candidate to succeed Johannes Rau, a member of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats who is stepping down after a single five-year term.

The center-right parties have a 21-seat edge among the 1,206 lower-house lawmakers and state representatives choosing the next president.

Koehler would not discuss who could follow him in at the IMF. The search for a replacement is likely to be discussed at a meeting of European Union finance ministers Monday, European officials said.

Two possible candidates fare the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jean Lemierre of France, and Andrew Crockett, a Briton who formerly headed the Bank for International Settlements.

Under an informal agreement, the bank is headed by an American president and the fund is led by a European managing director.

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