German President Horst Koehler Steps Down

BERLIN -- In a surprise announcement, German President Horst Koehler resigned Monday after being criticized for remarks in which he appeared to link military deployments abroad with the country's economic interests.

Koehler's decision came only a year into his second term as the largely ceremonial head of state.

Koehler, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats who has been president since 2004. In explaining his reasoning, he cited a week of "intense criticism" over a radio interview he gave following a visit to German troops in Afghanistan.

He said in that broadcast that military deployments could be "necessary ... in order to defend our interests, for example free trade routes."

That was taken by many as referring to Germany's unpopular mission in Afghanistan, though his office later said he was referring to anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia,

Opposition politicians had demanded he take back the remarks and accused him of damaging public acceptance of German military missions abroad.

"This criticism lacks any basis," Koehler said at the president's Bellevue palace alongside his wife, Eva Luise. "It also is lacking in the necessary respect for the presidential office."