Merkel blames Fukushima for poor showing in regional poll

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday blamed the Fukushima nuclear disaster for allowing the Greens to push her conservative party into third place in a regional election on Sunday.

The vote in the northern state of Bremen, the smallest of Germany's 16 states, marked the first time the environmentalists had scored more votes than the conservatives in a regional or federal election.

The election saw the ruling coalition of Social-Democrats (SPD) and Greens returned to power.

"The energy question played an important role" in the Bremen regional election, Merkel told a news conference.

"The situation in Fukushima has temporarily changed things", boosting the Green vote in Bremen as it did in March in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Merkel said.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which had governed Baden-Wuerttemberg for nearly six decades, lost that state to a coalition of Greens and SPD. At the time, Merkel also blamed Fukushima for the defeat.

The March 11 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan prompted the German government to decide on a u-turn in its nuclear energy policy.

In the face of growing public concern over nuclear safety, Merkel in March ordered a moratorium on the development of nuclear power, along with the emergency closing of five of the oldest power plants, but this failed to rally support for her embattled coalition.

The CDU "cannot be satisfied" with the result of Sunday's election, the fifth regional poll so far this year, but "one of the reasons" for its poor showing is "the energy policy" which the government is still in the process of redefining, the chancellor and party leader said.

The government will set a date for Germany renouncing nuclear energy by early summer, thereby levelling the political playing field in time for two more regional elections to be held in September, Merkel added.

Bremen, a city-port run by the SPD for the past 66 years, has always proved "difficult" terrain for the CDU, the chancellor also noted, suggesting that "demobilisation" of CDU voters was reflected in a low voter turnout of some 54 percent.

The SPD scored 36.8 percent of the vote, compared to 36.7 in the 2007 election, according to partial results issued at lunchtime Monday and based on counting at 166 out of 507 polling stations.

The Greens scored 22.1 percent, up 5.6 percent compared to 2007.

The CDU won 19.9 percent, down 5.7 percent on the previous election.

The Free Democrats (FDP), allied to the conservatives in Merkel's federal government, only managed 2.7 percent of the vote, below the 5-percent barrier needed to send representatives to the local assembly.

The left-wing Linke won 5.4 percent of the vote.

Final results will not be known for several days because of a complicated ballot counting system.

© 2011 AFP

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