Less than five months after taking over as party leader, Matthias Platzeck is stepping down as chairman of Germany’s Social Democrats. In a emotional statement he said he had had to take the most difficult decision in his life, to step down as party leader, on his doctors’ advice. The 52-year old was taken to hospital two weeks ago suffering from acute hearing loss.The announcement came as a surprise but is not expected to cause any major problems for the grand coalition headed by conservative chancellor Angela Merkel. “I respect his decision,” she said, “but I also regret it. Matthias Platzeck and I have done some good work together over the past months.” Kurt Beck, the popular premier of the state of Rhineland-Pfalz, will act as provisional chairman until a vote at a party conference in May.