* Wulff gets boost from new public opinion poll
* Merkel has "high esteem" for president
* Bild holds back transcript of "war" voice mail
(Adds government comment, VW lawsuit)
By Noah Barkin and Annika Breidthardt
BERLIN, Jan 6 Most Germans want President
Christian Wulff to stay in office even if many were not
convinced by his attempts this week to defuse the uproar over
his efforts to quash an embarrassing newspaper story, a poll
showed on Friday.
The survey for public broadcaster ARD showed that 56 percent
of respondents believed Wulff should not resign over the scandal
that risks damaging Chancellor Angela Merkel, who backed him for
the presidency in 2010.
It was conducted on Thursday, a day after Wulff gave a
television interview in which he acknowledged making a "grave
mistake" by leaving a voicemail message for the editor of
top-selling German newspaper Bild last month in a bid to stop
publication of the story about his private home loan.
German media have reported Wulff threatened "war" and legal
action if Bild went ahead with the story.
Some 61 percent of respondents said they were not convinced
by Wulff's efforts to stem the scandal, but the fact that a
majority still support him means he is unlikely to go unless
harmful new revelations emerge.
No one can force Wulff out unless it can be shown that he
broke the law and Merkel, who is keen to avoid a divisive
political debate over a successor, has expressed support for him
through a spokesman.
" The chancellor holds Christian Wulff in high
esteem as a person and as a president and she has high respect
for the office he holds," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert
said on Friday.
Even the biggest opposition parties, the Social
Democrats (SPD) and Greens, have stopped short of calling for
his ouster, although they have been highly critical of his
conduct and of Merkel for having pushed him for the largely
"I would like a clear word from the chancellor on whether
Wulff still fulfils the expectations she has for the office of
the president. After all, he was her candidate," Hubertus Heil,
deputy leader of the SPD in parliament, said on television.
Germans take the office of president seriously. The person
in the post is expected to act as a moral authority for the
nation, defending the constitution, including its commitment to
Wulff, a former conservative premier of the state of Lower
Saxony, is not totally out of the woods yet.
In another possible setback, news emerged on Friday that
investors had raised their compensation claims against carmakers
Porsche and Volkswagen for allegedly
holding back crucial information from shareholders when Wulff
sat on the VW board.
Bild also disputes Wulff's contention that he only sought to
delay publication of the home loan story by a day, not kill it,
and has threatened to release a transcript of the voicemail
message the president left on editor Kai Diekmann's phone last
Wulff refused to approve the release of the transcript on
Thursday, saying the voicemail was a private matter between him
and Diekmann. A day before, in the television interview, he had
promised full transparency in the affair.
Despite the pressure from Wulff, Bild went ahead and
published the story in question in mid-December. In it, the
paper reported that Wulff had received a home loan in 2008 at
cheap rates from the wife of a wealthy businessman friend Egon
Geerkens when he was a state leader.
He is accused of misleading the state parliament when he
denied having any business links to Geerkens and his critics say
he may have also broken ministerial law.
The ARD survey showed that Germans were roughly evenly
divided on what Wulff's eventual fate would be, with 49 percent
saying he would be out of office by the end of the year and 45
percent forecasting he would hold onto his post.
(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Noah Barkin)