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Former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg attends a CSU election campaign in Kulmbach, southern Germany August 30, 2017, ahead of the upcoming federal election. REUTERS/Michael Dalder


By Thomas Escritt

BERLIN (Reuters) - The man once touted as Germany's chancellor-in-waiting before his sudden fall from grace made his long-anticipated return to German politics on Wednesday with a speech hailing Angela Merkel as the right person to steer her country in uncertain times.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who was Germany's most popular politician until brought down, aged just 38, by the revelation that he had plagiarized his doctorate, presented himself as a chastened figure.

"I want to thank those people who, quite rightly, sharply criticised me for my failings. I learned much from them," said the former defence minister, who has spent the past six years working for an investment firm in New York.

Guttenberg was received enthusiastically by members of his conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party in the Bavarian town of Kulmbach, where the aristocrat's former family castle is located.

Describing a "disordered" world beset by crises, with Donald Trump in the White House, the Korean peninsula on the brink of a nuclear stand-off and autocrats "trying to divide the West", Guttenberg said Germany was "in the very best hands with my former boss" Angela Merkel.

While the alliance of Merkel's Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party enjoys a big poll lead over its Social Democrat rivals, a Guttenberg return could help dispel a sense that the party has nobody to replace the woman who has run Germany for 12 years.

Guttenberg said Germany must work to preserve its relationship with the United States, its traditional ally and military defender, in order to renew ties with the United States and its leaders after the end of the Trump era.

"They won't forget it if, at a time when they were being mocked by the whole world, we maintained contacts with them and said this relationship is important now and will remain so in future," he said.

Although Guttenberg, married to a descendent of Germany's 19th century Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, has been cagey about the possibility of a more permanent political come-back, Merkel has welcomed her close ally's campaign contribution.

Others have been more sceptical, with Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister in Merkel's ruling coalition, suggesting the former political star might prefer to prove himself in regional politics before returning to the national stage.

"Everyone has the right to a second chance," he told newspaper Bild. "But first you have to prove you want to do it better. Maybe he could train in the Bavarian regional parliament."

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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