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Caroline Wyatt reports from Berlin
"This is only the start of the reckoning"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 12:23 GMT
Schaeuble ready to quit

Wolfgang Schaeuble Mr Schaeuble: Close associate of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl

The leader of Germany's scandal-hit Christian Democratic Union party is resigning, according to party leaders.

Wolfgang Schaeuble is expected to quit as both leader and chairman - his other position in the party.

A formal statement is to be made at 1330GMT.

CDU Vice-President Volker Ruehe said there would be changes in both posts, adding to the pressure on Mr Schaeuble.

Mr Schaeuble has come in for heavy criticism over his handling of the illegal funding scandal that has engulfed the party, and brought disgrace on the former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The head of the regional government of Thuringia in eastern Germany, Bernhard Vogel, had also said he expected the CDU leader to resign.

Mr Vogle is now being touted as a possible successor to Mr Schaeuble.

The BBC Berlin correspondent, Caroline Wyatt, says Mr Schaeuble is a man closely associated with Mr Kohl and that the CDU needs a untarnished leader to restore its credibility.

Unprecedented punishment

The announcement came after the party was told on Tuesday to forfeit state funding, worth more than 40 million marks ($20m) as a punishment for failing to declare campaign funds - a ruling the party says it will challenge in the courts.

Thierse Parliamentary President Wolfgang Thierse: No party is above the law
The fine, unprecedented in German politics, means the CDU is being penalised for its failure to declare campaign contributions for 1998 by being made to forfeit the matching funds it would have received from the state that year.

Further fines will be levied when an investigative committee finishes its inquiry into the party's illegal secret funding under the former chancellor.

Parliamentary President Wolfgang Thierse said there was "no room for manoeuvre" in the matter, and that the party must pay the full sum.

'Grave mistakes'

Mr Thierse said he wanted to make it clear that no party was above the law.

The CDU has a month to pay, but its leaders say they will challenge the ruling in the courts.

CDU general secretary Angela Merkel said the party had made "grave mistakes", but would nevertheless challenge the decision in court as it viewed the amount as excessive.

However, as question marks still hang over other elements of the CDU's funding, correspondents say it may eventually be ordered to pay back even more - as well as face the prospect of heavy fines.

Secret accounts

The CDU, which has admitted operating a system of secret accounts under Mr Kohl, has so far made provision for less than 10 million marks in fines.

Mr Kohl's reputation as a leading European statesman and architect of German unification has been destroyed by his admission that he accepted 2 million marks ($1m) in illegal donations.

In addition, the CDU in the state of Hesse has admitted keeping about 20 million marks ($10m) in Swiss bank accounts, and ignoring a requirement to declare the funds.

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See also:
18 Jan 00 |  Europe
Profile: Wolfgang Schaeuble
01 Feb 00 |  Europe
Germany reveals secret support for allies
30 Jan 00 |  Europe
Kohl denies French connection
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Germany's funding scandal: Special report
28 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Scandal at the heart of Europe
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
More cash unearthed in CDU scandal

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