Merkel replaces minister amid porn probe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition has moved swiftly to replace a minister in a widening crisis for the two-month-old government, which was sparked by a child porn probe.

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Hans-Peter Friedrich abruptly resigned from the agriculture portfolio on Friday following pressure over suspicions he leaked confidential information about the probe while serving as interior minister.

Christian Social Union (CSU) party colleague Christian Schmidt will replace him, the Bavarian-based conservative party announced on Monday.

The scandal built up steam last week as it emerged that Friedrich had tipped off the head of the Social Democrats (SPD) that the name of one of its prominent MPs had cropped up in an international child pornography inquiry.

The move 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.

But 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”.

Merkel wants further clarity in the matter but doesn’t believe it could impact the government’s work, her spokesman said on Monday.

Last week it emerged that searches had been carried out at the home and offices of SPD lawmaker Sebastian Edathy as part of a Canadian-led child pornography investigation.

Edathy — who has gained prominence for heading a parliamentary panel into the shock 2011 discovery of a neo-Nazi killer cell — had stepped down from his Bundestag seat days earlier citing health reasons.

He has vehemently denied being in possession of child pornography.