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Berlin denies ailing Schäuble to step down

AFP · 10 May 2010, 16:50

Published: 10 May 2010 16:50 GMT+02:00

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"According to my latest information, he will leave the hospital in Brussels this afternoon," Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Kreienbaum told a regular briefing.

"He will then contact his doctors in Germany and is expected back in Berlin this evening," he added.

Wheelchair-bound Schäuble, 67, spent the night under medical surveillance after reacting badly to medicine he took for the first time and did not attend Sunday's meeting of EU finance ministers to hammer out an emergency deal for Greece.

"I believe his state of health has markedly improved," Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters earlier Monday, adding that she had spoken to him "several times" by telephone.

Schäuble's health has prompted a raft of speculation on a possible reshuffle, with business daily Handelsblatt reporting that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was poised to replace him.

However, Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm played down the rumours, saying there was "no reason to speculate" on a reshuffle or Schäuble's imminent departure.

Amid a barrage of questions from reporters about whether Schäuble was fit enough to be running the finances of Europe's top economy, Wilhelm said: "I do not share this fear", adding the minister had worked "intensively" on the Greek bailout.

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Nevertheless de Maiziere was the man called upon to step into the breach in Brussels and, as a trusted Merkel ally, is among the favourites to take over, were Schäuble to step down.

On arrival at the negotiations in Brussels on Sunday, de Maiziere said Schäuble was well enough to brief him on the German line for the talks. "I am in contact with Wolfgang Schäuble. He's doing well and gave me the negotiating plan," he said.

Confined to a wheelchair after a 1990 attack by a mentally disturbed man who fired three shots at him, Schäuble has spent weeks in and out of hospital this year after wounds from an operation failed to heal properly.

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