Merkel gains boost from feisty speech to party: press

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel's rallying cry to her conservatives at a party congress served as a potent warning to rivals who see her current woes as a chance to topple her, the press said Tuesday.

Merkel sought to galvanize her Christian Democrats (CDU) at a convention in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe Monday with a feisty speech that featured unusually barbed attacks on the opposition ahead of a "super" election year.

The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, saying the 56-year-old leader appeared to be at the height of her powers despite dismal poll ratings and incessant squabbling in her year-old, centre-right government.

"The CDU is marching in step behind Merkel -- she gave a 75-minute mix of self-criticism, attacks and confidence-building and was interrupted 52 times by applause," the mass-selling daily Bild enthused.

"The party doesn't have much of a choice and is pinning all its hopes on Merkel," it wrote, adding that depending on the outcome of elections in six of Germany's 16 states in 2011, this could be the start of "the Merkel era."

The centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Merkel's re-election as party leader with 90.4 percent of the vote, while marking a dip from her last score of 94.8 percent, proved her power was unchallenged.

"Merkel (gave) a 'We are great' speech, which is something that the party has never experienced before -- and even her critics seem to be touched," it said, despite a "disastrous year of governing".

Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor and its first leader from the ex-communist east, has seen her popularity crash in her second term, in which she ditched the Social Democrats as partners for the pro-business Free Democrats.

She has admitted the resulting "dream" coalition got off to a rocky start, with infighting over tax policy, pensions and military service giving rise to doubts about her ability to corral her own ministers.

Speculation that Merkel's days could be numbered abounded, although without any clear front-runner to replace her.

But in her rousing pep talk to around 1,000 delegates, Merkel insisted the government was now on the right track with a booming economy, falling unemployment and a new, albeit controversial, energy policy in place.

"It is absolutely fine for decisions that we have taken this autumn to be contentious," said Merkel, chancellor since 2005 and party leader since 2000, in a speech punctuated with pointed attacks on the leftist opposition.

"They will prove to have been necessary and, at the end of the day, they will convince people."

© 2010 AFP

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