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Merkel's Bavarian ally brands reports he'll step down a 'red herring'

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer gives a statement in Berlin, Germany, November 5, 2018, on controversy surrounding former domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - Horst Seehofer, the leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, has denied a media report saying he would stand down from that role in the coming days but stay on as federal interior minister.

Citing sources close to Seehofer, Die Zeit weekly reported that Merkel’s decision to step down as leader of her Christian Democrats (CDU) in December had influenced Seehofer’s decision to resign as head of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU).

“Since then, Horst has been relieved that he hasn’t landed in Merkel’s graveyard of men,” Die Zeit quoted one unnamed Seehofer confidante as saying. In her 13 years as chancellor, Merkel has seen off many of her male rivals for power.

Referring to media reports but not directly to Die Zeit, Seehofer told newspaper Die Welt: “That’s a red herring.”

The German Interior Ministry wrote on Twitter that none of the speculation or rumors on Seehofer’s role as party chairman and interior minister could be confirmed.

A spokesman for Seehofer reiterated that the CSU leader would make a statement on last month’s election in Bavaria and about his future after Nov. 12.

Seehofer, long a thorn in Merkel’s side and a robust critic of her 2015 open-doors migrant policy, has come under intense pressure to quit due to arguments with Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats, partners in the federal coalition.

A poor result for the CSU in last month’s state election, in which the party lost its absolute majority, raised further questions about whether he could keep his CSU job.

One of the most likely contenders to succeed Seehofer as head of the CSU is his long-time rival Markus Soeder, the state premier of Bavaria.

Reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Hugh Lawson