Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s coalition swiftly moved to replace a minister on Monday and defuse a widening crisis in the two-month-old government sparked by a child porn probe.
Hans-Peter Friedrich was forced to quit from the agriculture portfolio Friday under pressure over suspicions he leaked confidential information about the probe while serving as interior minister.
Replacing him is Christian Social Union (CSU) party colleague Christian Schmidt, who is currently the party`s deputy head, the Bavarian-based conservative party announced today.
The scandal built up steam last week as it emerged that Friedrich had tipped off the head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) that the name of one of its prominent MPs had cropped up in an international child pornography inquiry.
The move, which dates back to October when Merkel`s conservatives were negotiating to form a new coalition after September 22 elections, was apparently aimed at preventing the MP being included in any new cabinet line-up.
German media has raised fears that the leak may have harmed the course of the legal investigation.
The crisis has exposed traditional fault lines between Merkel`s conservative bloc and its old foes, the centre-left SPD, who in December buried the hatchet to team up in a left-right "grand coalition".
It has also triggered awkward questions over who knew what and when as well as finger-pointing, just as the government grapples with political hot potatoes such as renewable energy and the minimum wage.
Merkel sees need for further clarity in the matter but no danger that it could impact the government`s work, her spokesman insisted today, in response to a deluge of reporters` questions.
"For the chancellor it is important that all outstanding questions are settled in a convincing way," Steffen Seibert said.