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Beyond the World news headlines

Merkel fights back with drop-dead argument

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GERMANY-FINANCIAL/TAXChancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of the opposition Social Democrats squared off in one of the more riveting debates in parliament seen in ages on Wednesday, treating their respective camps to some fiery rhetoric that may galvanize support and help each side recover from steady erosions in opinion polls.
After SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel threw down the gauntlet and spent 40 highly entertaining minutes ripping into Merkel and her centre-right government, the chancellor rose to the challenge — spending the next 40 minutes with a spirited defence of the performance since taking power 10 months ago and attacking the centre-left opposition for such things as putting Germany’s long-term energy security at risk with “ideologically driven energy policies.”
Merkel, who may well face off against Gabriel in the next federal election due in 2013, whipped out a drop-dead argument that will probably make it difficult for anyone from either the SPD or from inside her own somewhat disenchanted conservative party to knock her out of office: unemployment has fallen by nearly two million to about three million since she took office in 2005.

Merkel’s popularity has nevertheless plunged since her re-election last year – due in part to incessant squabbling within the coalition and a perception her government has made little headway in moving the country forward. The centre-right government trails the centre-left opposition by about 10 points in opinion polls, an astonishing reversal of fortunes after they won the election last September by about 15 points.

“The most important thing is that the labour market is in robust shape,” Merkel, 56, said to cheers from her centre-right coalition of Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats sitting on the right half of the parliament floor who were clearly relishing their leader on the attack for a change. “Unemployment has fallen back to the level it was at before the financial crisis started two years ago. Five years ago it was nearly five million. This year we’ll possibly slip below the three million mark. That’s the mark of success for this Christian-Liberal coalition. We’re the growth engine of Europe.”

GERMANY-FINANCIAL/TAXGabriel, 52, had opened the debate in fine form, accusing Merkel of being a lapdog to lobbyists – her government gave hugely unpopular tax breaks to hotel owners and defied public opinion by agreeing to the demands of utilities to extend the use of nuclear energy. Gabriel also criticized what he called an increasingly unfair distribution of wealth in Germany under the centre-right government and the government’s habit of “giving tax breaks to the wrong people.”

New SPD leader has tough job: saving his party

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Two years ago Sigmar Gabriel came into the Reuters office in Berlin for an interview about climate change, the environment, renewable energy policies and the state of his Social Democrats.

The burly minister, who was elected leader of Germany’s struggling centre-left SPD party on Friday, had clearly lost weight on his summer holiday that had just ended so, while my colleagues were still streaming into the conference room, I asked: “You’ve lost some weight, haven’t you?”

Could the “Baron from Bavaria’s” success rock the coalition in Berlin?

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It was a weekend of mixed fortunes for the German
government’s aristocratic AC/DC fan Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

    In Sunday’s federal election, the 37-year-old conservative
Economy Minister won 68.1 percent of the direct votes in his
constituency — more than any other politician in Germany, and
nearly 20 points more than Chancellor Angela Merkel — and
earning him the nickname “King of the votes” in German media.

Germany’s Greens celebrate victory in defeat

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Sunday’s federal election threw Germany’s Greens into a state of disarray — should they celebrate their best result ever or mourn the fact they failed to prevent a centre-right coalition and languished in fifth place?

“A Victory that is a Defeat”, “Triumph and Bitterness”, “Celebrations despite missing goal,” read newspaper headlines on Monday.

German election live blog

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Welcome to the live blog of the German election, a showdown between Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) and Chancellor Angela Merkel (right). More than 50 Reuters correspondents, photographers and television crews in Berlin and across Germany will be tracking the story throughout the weekend.

And in this box you will be able to follow the latest twists and turns throughout the weekend. We’re using #germanelection as the hashtag if you want to follow us on Twitter.

Will former minister’s stab in the back hurt Germany’s SPD?

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The last time Germany went to the polls, Wolfgang Clement was deputy head of the Social Democrats (SPD), and one of the most powerful figures in government: the “super minister” in charge of both economic and labour market policy, who had previously governed the SPD heartland of North-Rhine Westphalia, home to 18 million people.

 Four years on, Clement is urging the public to vote for one of the centre-left SPD’s most bitter rivals, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP).

Little help from celebs for Germany’s undecided voters

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Nobel prize-winning writer Guenter Grass is dressed in a
mustard-brown cord suit and reading his work to a reverent
audience in a hushed Berlin night club.

It feels more like a book launch than a political campaign
event just days before the German election. Yet as far as
celebrity endorsements for German political parties go, this
is as big as it gets.

from The Great Debate UK:

German elections too close to call

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Erik Kirschbaum- Erik Kirschbaum is a Reuters correspondent in Berlin. -

Has this been dullest German election campaign in decades or the most exciting?  Has the battle for power in Berlin between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that concludes with Sunday's election been a memorable showdown or a forgettably boring contest?

Many journalists, pundits and voters have complained it's all been a merciless bore compared to the high-octane battles of the past with little action and precious few highlights.

Flashmobs target Merkel at final election rallies

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Getting pelted by eggs or tomatoes is an occupational hazard for most hardened politicians on the election trail.******But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking re-election on Sunday, has been confronted with a new kind of protest during her final campaign rallies: flashmobs.******The mobs, groups of people summoned over the Internet to show up at a specific time and place to do something unusual, have materialised at several election events in the last week to wave flags and banners and heckle the unsuspecting Merkel.******Mostly, they have been chanting “Yeahhhh!” after every sentence she utters and the slogan is meant as an ironic expression of support.******It may not sound like the most damaging critique, but Merkel has cottoned on to the flashmobs and now even addresses them at the rallies as “My young friends from the Internet”.******So is this a new form of political protest or just a bit of fun?******Blogger Rene Walter, who writes for nerdcore, says there is a serious idea behind the light-hearted gatherings.******”We are not just going to swallow the election messages, we are spitting back the rubbish Merkel speaks in the ironic form of a “Yeahhh!”, he says in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.******Many involved in the flashmobs support the Pirate Party, who are popular among young voters and oppose what they say is censorship of the Internet that has been brought in under Merkel’s government.******One thing is for sure. Flashmobs are injecting some much-needed spontaneity into the final days of a campaign which many voters think has been the most turgid in decades.******But are flashmobs here to stay? Could they become the political protest movement of the Internet age?

Fringe parties abound but have little chance in German election

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Strangers to electoral office and with little experience in government, 23 parties outside the political mainstream are aiming to gain ground in Germany’s federal election this month, and their success or failure may give a taste of what’s to come in a country whose two main parties are losing appeal. Some analysts say that without reform, the number and importance of smaller parties will rise and make the country’s coalition system of government unmanageable – a harrowing reminder of the chaos of the Weimar years that made Hitler’s rise possible. At the moment the small parties are polling at around 5 percent, compared to the last election when they won 4 percent. But none alone is even close to clearing the 5 percent hurdle to access parliament.

Most of the micro-parties are based on single issues, some focusing on things like pensioners rights or animal protection. A smattering of religious parties are calling for stronger Christian values, and far-left groups urge different visions of proletarian revolution and state economic control. The computer-geek founded Pirate Party, which is also the fastest growing party in Germany, wants to legalise free downloads.

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