Terror warning rattles Germany as Merkel eyes new term

25th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Threats of attacks in the run-up to the election have put security services on high alert. Police armed with automatic weapons were out in force at airports and main train stations.

Berlin -- Chancellor Angela Merkel looked set to sail to a second term in the weekend election in Germany, but terror warnings over the country's military mission in Afghanistan sparked a nationwide alert Thursday.

As campaigning for Sunday's poll entered the final straight, suspense grew over whether the conservative Merkel would be able to govern with her favoured partners or be forced back into a loveless "grand coalition" with the leftists Social Democrats (SPD).

Merkel, the first woman to lead Europe's biggest nation, jetted to Pittsburgh for a Group of 20 summit on the economic crisis with a new barometer giving her a boost.

The closely watched Ifo index showed business confidence rose in September for the sixth straight month as Germany slowly pulls out of its deepest postwar recession.

But threats of attacks in the run-up to the election put security services on high alert. Police armed with automatic weapons were out in force at airports and main train stations.

Armoured vehicles could been seen on runways including at Frankfurt airport, one of Europe's busiest, after the US State Department warned Americans that Al-Qaeda had released a video specifically warning Germany of attacks.

Footage showed a man identified as Abu Talha "the German", threatening in German that if Merkel is re-elected, "bitter times await the Germans" over the country's deployment of 4,200 troops in Afghanistan.

"There is no reason to panic," an interior ministry spokesman said. "There is an abstract threat as seen in the warning videos that we have received. We are taking it seriously and the security services are doing what they can."

Germany's troops in Afghanistan itself were also braced for a militant assault.

"According to our information, orders have come from Pakistan to step up attacks," said Lieutenant Colonel Mickael Weckbach at the large German base in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in reference to extremist commanders across the border.

Merkel has won praise at home and abroad over the last four years for steady if not visionary leadership, particularly in the economic crisis.

Her conservative Christian Union bloc (CDU/CSU) enjoys a sizeable albeit shrinking lead in the polls and her victory looks virtually assured.

But the real question will be whether she can form a centre-right coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), or whether she will be forced into another unwieldy left-right coalition with her chief rivals, the SPD.

"The grand coalition has done good work but now it is time, in the worst crisis of the last 60 years, to use everything at our disposal to assure fresh economic growth," she told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau, explaining her preference for the FDP.

The latest polls showed the CDU/CSU at 34-35 percent, with the FDP at 12-13 percent.

That means Merkel will be on tenterhooks to see whether their combined score can, under Germany's complex electoral arithmetic, give them a ruling majority in parliament.

If not, the most likely alternative is another coalition with the SPD, Germany's oldest political outfit and one of two "people's parties" that has led coalitions in the postwar era.

But the SPD, with Merkel's foreign minister and vice-chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier as its candidate, has been embroiled in a bitter internal struggle between centrist reformers and leftists and is scoring a meagre 26-27 percent.

It has next to no chance of forming a coalition with their favoured partners, the Greens, who are drawing 10-11 percent.

But with more than one-quarter of the 62-million-strong electorate reportedly still undecided, there is still plenty of room for surprises.

"The number (of undecided voters) has been growing from election to election, in every social category, but it has never been this high so close to the election," said political scientist Richard Stoess at Berlin's Free University, citing the blurring differences between the top parties.

Deborah Cole/AFP/Expatica

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