After criticism of remarks he made about German military deployments abroad, German President Horst Koehler (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) says he is resigning immediately.
In Germany, the president’s job is largely ceremonial. Koehler, 67, had linked missions such as the Afghanistan deployment with the defence of economic interests.
His remarks drew criticism from a number of German politicians.
Koehler was re-elected last year to serve a second five-year term as president.
The controversial remarks were made in a radio interview after a brief visit to Afghanistan earlier this month.
He said that for an export-orientated country like Germany, it was sometimes necessary to deploy troops “to protect our interests… for example free trade routes”.
When announcing his resignation on Monday, he said “it was an honour for me to serve Germany as president”.
His wife standing next to him, he said he regretted that his comments could lead to a misunderstanding about a difficult question for the nation.
Interim president will be Jens Boehrnsen, speaker of the parliament’s upper house (Bundesrat). He is in the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD).
According to BBC’s Oana Lungescu in Berlin, Koehler’s remarks about military missions led to accusations of gunboat diplomacy and embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. It has come under strong popular pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
German president’s shock decision could hardly have come at a worst time, says BBC’s correspondent. Polls show that the government’s approval rating has plummeted to a four-year low, mainly due to its management of the eurozone crisis.