Key Merkel ally accused of racism
The clips showed Juergen Ruettgers, premier of the industrial western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and a deputy chairman of Merkel's Christian Democrats, saying Romanian workers "don't know what they are doing."
Berlin -- A key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was under fire on Sunday after videos showed him criticising Romanian workers while campaigning ahead of general elections in three weeks' time.
The clips showed Juergen Ruettgers, premier of the industrial western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and a deputy chairman of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) party, saying Romanian workers "don't know what they are doing."
"In contrast to workers here... workers in Romania don't turn up at 7:00 am for the early shift and then stay till the end," he said in the footage of two speeches made in late August. "They come and go whenever they like, and they don't know what they are doing."
The comments referred to the decision by Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia to relocate one of its factories from Germany to Romania last year.
He also said in the videos, made available on the Internet, that Chinese investors were "strangled" until they decided to invest in the west German city of Duisburg, and "until they decided Duisburg was beautiful."
Opposition politicians jumped on the remarks.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor candidate, said the comments would damage Germany's relations with other countries and were "grist in the mill of extremists," his spokesman said.
Renate Kuenast, parliamentary head of the Green party, slammed the remarks as "pure racism" and called on Merkel "to draw the consequences swiftly and unambiguously."
Gregor Gysi, co-head of the far-left Die Linke party, said Ruettgers' comments were "racist ... dangerous and pathetic."
Ruettgers, whose state is Germany's most populous with 18 million people, said on Friday: "It was not my intention to offend anyone. If that is the case then I am sorry."
His spokesman Hans-Dieter Wichter said that the comments about the Romanians had also been made in the presence of Merkel -- and with around 40 journalists from Berlin present -- in a speech in Bonn on August 25.
Polls indicate that Merkel, whose party held a rally in Düsseldorf on Sunday, is on course for re-election on September 27, and that she will be able to ditch the SPD as a coalition partner and govern instead with the business-friendly Free Democrats (SPD).