The front-runner to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's September election has apologized for a scene in which he was seen laughing in the background as the country's president delivered a statement on the devastating floods in western Germany.
Armin Laschet, the candidate of Merkel's center-right Union bloc to be Germany's next leader, is also the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state — one of two badly hit by last week's floods. On Saturday, he visited the town of Erfstadt, which was the scene of a dramatic rescue effort after the ground gave way, with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
While Steinmeier gave a statement to reporters after the visit, Laschet and a group of others stood in the background. Photos showed him turning to someone else and laughing.
Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the center-left Social Democrats, told Sunday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Laschet's behavior was “lacking in decency and appalling.”
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“They say that people's character shows in times of crisis,” he added.
Laschet took to Twitter on Saturday evening to explain himself and thank Steinmeier for his visit.
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“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us,” he wrote. “So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”
The Union bloc currently leads polls ahead of the environmentalist Greens, with the Social Democrats in third place. The election is on Sept. 26.