UPDATE 1-Merkel rejects talk that German Fin Min facing exit

Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:20am EST

* Interior minister tipped as likely successor

* Schaeuble hints he is feeling the pressure

By Dave Graham

BERLIN, Nov 12 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel denied on Friday she was planning to replace Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has been under growing pressure to step down because of concerns his health is interfering with the job.

Speaking to German television ARD at a meeting of the Group of 20 economic powers in Seoul, Merkel rejected a newspaper report that she was preparing a cabinet reshuffle.

"I have worked together with Wolfgang Schaeuble here excellently and intend to continue to do so," she said.

Business daily Handelsblatt said that Merkel was lining up Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere as a replacement, and that she planned to float the idea when her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) hold a party congress from Nov. 14-16.

The paper quoted an unnamed member of the CDU leadership as saying time was running out for the 68-year-old Schaeuble.

"The question is no longer whether Wolfgang Schaeuble is replaced, it's 'When is the right moment?'," the official said.

Schaeuble, a former CDU leader, has been wheelchair-bound since he was shot by a mentally ill man in 1990.

He recently returned from a lengthy stay in hospital and created a media sensation last week when he gave his spokesman a verbal dressing down in front of the media.

A video of the incident became a hit on Youtube and the spokesman resigned, fuelling fresh criticism of Schaeuble and talk that he could be heading for the exit. [ID:nLDE6A80ZF]

Schaeuble himself hinted to Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday that recent events had put a strain on him.

"Even a finance minister can get annoyed and be under a lot of pressure sometimes," he said when asked about the episode.

De Maiziere, 56, is regarded as one of Merkel's most trusted lieutenants, and deputised for Schaeuble earlier this year when Berlin agreed to sign up to a 750 billion euro emergency package hastily assembled in Brussels to support the euro.

Once finance minister in the state of Saxony, De Maiziere was touted as a potential head of the German Finance Ministry in the discussions that lead to Schaeuble's appointment last year, when Merkel won a majority for a centre-right government.

A former head of Merkel's chancellery, De Maiziere is renowned for keeping a low profile in government, though he has risen to greater prominence in recent weeks during the media coverage of a string of terror alerts in Europe.

Daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung devoted all of its third page to De Maiziere and to Schaeuble's possible departure.

"If Wolfgang Schaeuble were to give up his office as finance minister, it's pretty certain his successor would be called De Maiziere," the paper wrote.

Nonetheless, Schaeuble is highly respected and one of the most experienced figures in German politics, making it unlikely that Merkel would force him out of office, analysts say.

To avoid this, as Handelsblatt itself conceded, Merkel must hope that the minister chooses to depart of his own accord. (Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh)

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