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UPDATED: 09:48, May 24, 2004
Horst Koehler elected as president of Germany
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Horst Koehler, a former head of the International Monetary Fund who advocates bolder economic reforms in Germany, was elected Sunday as Germany's ninth postwar president.

Nominated by opposition conservatives, Koehler defeated Gesine Schwan, a university professor backed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government who sought to become Germany's first female head of state.

Koehler, a 61-year-old finance expert, won by a vote of 604-589 by a special assembly of lawmakers and state delegates in Berlin's Reichstag parliament building.

As electors rose and clapped, Koehler blinked back tears and received congratulatory handshake from Schwan. In his acceptance speech, Koehler encouraged Germans to be more innovative and self-reliant, indicating he would push for further trims in Germany's welfare state.

"In my opinion Germany is too slow on the path toward a knowledge-based society," he said. "But my dream goes even further: Germany should become a land of ideas."

"We have to face reality. Germany has to fight for its place in the 21st century."

Germany's presidency is largely ceremonial and nominally above politics, but incumbents have often influenced national policy debates and are considered a voice of moral authority.

Koehler replaces Johannes Rau, a member of Schroeder's Social Democrats who is stepping down after a single five-year term. Rau made history in 2000 as the first German president to give a speech in the Israeli parliament.

Koehler's victory had been widely expected, which diverted attention before the vote to state delegate Hans Filbinger, 90, who allegedly was involved in passing death sentences as a Nazi-era naval judge.

Some Jewish groups called for his removal, but the Christian Democrats, who appointed the former judge, stood firm.

Koehler held a series of finance posts in the German government, headed the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, then spent the last four years in Washington as the IMF's managing director.

He quit the post when the center-right Christian Democrats and Free Democrats nominated him in March.

Though he helped former Chancellor Helmut Kohl negotiate German reunification in 1990, Koehler was largely unknown to the general public before his nomination.

He has said he wants to bring his experience in national and international affairs to the post, and has called on Germans to accept further trims in social programs, work longer hours and rely less on government as a way out of three years of economic stagnation.

Source: Agencies

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