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German election race narrows amid security threat
Fri Sep 25, 2009 4:24pm EDT
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By Erik Kirschbaum and Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopes of forming a new center-right government suffered a blow on Friday, two days before Germany's federal election, as a new opinion poll showed her just short of her goal.
While she attended a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a rousing speech to thousands of supporters at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, telling them: "Everything is wide open."
Shortly before he spoke, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned European countries to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan in an audio tape with both English and German sub-titles that appeared timed to spook German voters before the election on Sunday.
A series of al Qaeda videos over the past week have threatened Germany with a "rude awakening" if the electorate backs a government that supports the mission in Afghanistan, where 4,200 German troops are stationed.
Police in the southern city of Stuttgart said on Friday they had arrested a 25-year old Turkish man they suspect of posting one of the threatening videos on the Internet.
Merkel holds a lead of 8-11 points over her SPD rivals heading into election weekend and is widely expected to win a second four-year term.
But a new poll by Forsa on Friday showed support for her conservative bloc -- the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) -- shrinking to 33 percent, its lowest level in months.
It also put her short of her goal to form a governing majority with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), a center-right partnership that would pursue tax cuts and reverse a planned phase-out of nuclear power plants in Germany.
If she does not win enough support to team up with the FDP, her conservatives would probably be forced into another awkward "grand coalition" with the rival SPD, a partnership which worked well during the financial crisis but which analysts say could be less stable and harmonious the second time around.
STEINMEIER VOWS TO FIGHT
In one of his most forceful speeches of the election campaign, Steinmeier vowed on Friday evening to "fight to the last second for every vote."
"The race is open again, everything is wide open," he told a crowd the organizers estimated at 10,000. "We've caught up, we've fought and anyone who catches up can also overtake."
The Forsa poll showed 26 percent of voters were still undecided, suggesting Germany could be in for another cliffhanger election.
Merkel's conservatives saw a similar poll lead nearly vanish on election day four years ago when Steinmeier's mentor, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, mounted a furious comeback in the final days before the vote.
This time Merkel has played it safe, avoiding confrontation and counting on her strong personal popularity ratings to help her party to victory. Continued...
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