Kohl scolds Merkel in German nuclear debate

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German elder statesman Helmut Kohl added Friday to Chancellor Angela Merkel's growing list of headaches two days ahead of a crunch state election by contradicting her on nuclear power.

Japan's nuclear crisis "is capable of changing the world. But it should not paralyse us, it shouldn't distort our view of reality," former chancellor Kohl, 80, wrote in a guest editorial for Germany's top-selling newspaper Bild.

"It has not immediately changed anything in Germany at all. The catastrophe in Japan has not made nuclear power in Germany any more dangerous that it was before," he said.

Merkel, Kohl's protege until she famously helped him end his political career with a notorious 1999 editorial of her own, has called Japan's problems with its Fukushima plant a "turning point" for the whole world.

Last week she suspended for three months an earlier decision to extend the lifetime of Germany's nuclear power plants and temporarily shut off the seven oldest reactors pending a safety review.

Despite nuclear power being deeply unpopular, her announcement has however backfired, with one survey showing 70 percent of voters dismissing it as "electioneering" ahead of two state votes on Sunday.

In the most important, polls indicate that Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) could lose power in Baden-Wuerttemberg after 58 years in charge, with nuclear power a major issue for voters.

The election could also see Merkel's national coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), not win enough votes to secure seats in the state. A similar fate might also befall them in Sunday's other election in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The main beneficiaries could be the ecologist Greens, winning strong support from their opposition to nuclear power.

Adding to pressure on Merkel, 56, is sharp criticism of Germany's abstention in last Thursday's UN Security Council resolution on Libya, and also of billions of euros (dollars) in contributions a new eurozone rescue package.

© 2011 AFP

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