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Angela Merkel backs 'German Nelson Mandela' for president

Angela Merkel has bowed to pressure from all sides of politics and nominated a popular former East German rights activist, Joachim Gauck, for the German presidency.

Joachim GauckEnlarge
Co-leader of the German Green party Claudia Roth, Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Sigmar Gabriel, Former East German rights activist Joachim Gauck, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Bavarian State Governor Horst Seehofer and German Economy Minister and vice-chancellor Philipp Roesler give a press conference on February 19, 2012 at the Chancellery in Berlin to announce that Gauck will replace resigned Christian Wulff as German president. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Angela Merkel has bowed to pressure from all sides of politics and nominated a popular former East German rights activist for the German presidency, despite blocking his appointment two years ago.

The German Chancellor said she would back Joachim Gauck, a 72-year-old Protestant pastor and anticommunist activist, to replace Christian Wulff, who resigned last Friday over a corruption probe.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, even hailed Gauck as a "true teacher of democracy" who had helped the country come together since its reunification in 1990, Agence France-Presse reported.

Merkel handpicked Wulff, a former Christian Democrat state premier, for the largely ceremonial office in 2010, while Gauck was put forward by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

In choosing his replacement, Britain's Daily Telegraph wrote, Merkel had opted to back a consensus candidate "rather than risk a divisive battle with the opposition – something which could have distracted Berlin from solving the euro zone debt crisis."

"This man can provide an important impetus for the challenges of our time and the future," AFP cited her Sunday as saying of Gauck on Sunday.

According to Reuters, Gauck has been referred to as Germany’s answer to Nelson Mandela, for his role in helping to "bring down the communist East German regime, setting the stage for the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification in 1990."

After reunification, he ran the state-run archives on the Stasi, or East German secret police, and sought to expose the crimes.

He has authored many books on human rights, with his latest, titled “Freedom — A plea,” hits stores nationwide on Monday.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/germany/120219/angela-merkel-nelson-mandela-east-germany-president-Joachim-Gauck