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Germany swears in new president after scandals

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Sun March 18, 2012
Joachim Gauck is congratulated by members of the Bundestag after being elected German president.
Joachim Gauck is congratulated by members of the Bundestag after being elected German president.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joachim Gauck replaces Christian Wulff, who resigned last month
  • Wulff is accused of financial impropriety and doing political favors
  • He says he is innocent
  • His resignation is seen as a blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who backed him

Berlin (CNN) -- Germany swore in a new president Sunday, with former pastor Joachim Gauck replacing Christian Wulff, who resigned last month in the face of scandals.

Wulff announced his resignation February 17 after he was accused of financial impropriety and doing political favors for associates while he was state premier of Lower Saxony.

A day before Wulff resigned, prosecutors in Hanover called for the government to waive his immunity from prosecution, in light of the evidence it had gathered.

They cited "extensive analyses of new documents and the evaluation of further media reports" as "grounds for initial suspicion of receiving bribes or being granted advantages."

Wulff has always maintained that he did nothing wrong throughout the course of the scandals -- something he reiterated during his resignation speech.

"I have always behaved legally correctly in the offices I held," he said. "I have made mistakes, but I was always honest."

The German presidency is a largely ceremonial office, but Wulff's resignation was seen as a blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who supported his candidacy as president.

However, it is unlikely to impact Germany's handling of the eurozone debt crisis, Carsten Brzeski, a senior economist at ING, told CNN.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, congratulated Gauck on his election and quoted the German author Goethe, saying: "Freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew."

Merkel has not had involvement in any of the scandals around Wulff. But Wulff's departure comes within two years of the resignation of his predecessor, Horst Koehler, who was also backed by Merkel -- which raises a question mark over her judgment, Brzeski said.

Merkel consulted with the Social Democrats and the Greens on finding a replacement for Wulff. That's a break from her earlier stance in 2010, when she insisted on Wulff as successor to Koehler, who resigned following controversial comments in which he suggested military deployments were vital to Germany's economic success.

Gauck becomes the 11th president of the Federal Republic of Germany.

CNN's Christopher Cottrell, Laura Smith-Spark and Kendra Wates contributed to this report.

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