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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 15:50 GMT
German opposition leader fights back
CDU leader
Merkel's speech won a six-minute standing ovation
Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany's opposition Christian Democrats, the CDU, has eased the pressure on her leadership with a rousing speech at the party's congress.

The German papers are almost unanimous in believing that the speech has restored her chances of being named as the party's candidate for the chancellorship in next autumn's general election.

The fly in the ointment for Ms Merkel is still her main rival for the job - Bavarian leader Edmund Stoiber, of the CDU's sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU).

She [Merkel] worked her party like Vladimir Horowitz once worked the piano

Sueddeutsche Zeitung
He has yet to make his pitch to the CDU faithful, and an impressive performance could still throw the issue back into doubt.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, based in Mr Stoiber's Munich heartland, is particularly gushing in its praise of Merkel's speech.

"It was a party congress speech like the ones Helmut Kohl gave in his best days - only a bit better... She worked her party like Vladimir Horowitz once worked the piano: self-assured, with a sure grasp and a strong touch liked by party congress delegates," a commentary in the paper says.

"They had been waiting for a chance to rejoice and they had plenty of occasions for it.

Edmund Stoiber
Stoiber has yet to make his appeal to CDU grassroots
"They applauded away their doubts - the doubts about the union's chances in the Bundestag election, doubts over whether their party chairman is really capable, and also doubts over whether she is the right candidate to challenge the chancellor," it adds.

"Angela Merkel wants it, and the party is beginning to believe that she can really do it," the paper concludes.

The influential mass-market tabloid Bild is also unstinting in its praise of a speech which earnt a six-minute ovation: "What a success for the oft- criticised CDU chief!" is the paper's headline.

The paper looks forward to Mr Stoiber's speech to the delegates, noting: "One thing was clear from the floor of the conference: the applause factor will be a clear indicator for the chancellor-candidate question.

She appears determined, permeated by the will to win

Berliner Zeitung
"The CDU is encouraging itself. In Dresden it is firmly determined to move out of its Valley of Tears," the paper concludes.

The Berliner Zeitung is less convinced, but notes: "Things are going well for Angela Merkel, although the basic policy part of the speech was long-winded, and the long passages on defining the position hardly induced applause.

"The chairman knows very well that her appearance is an acid test, a preliminary decision on who will lead the party into the election campaign.

"She appears determined, permeated by the will to win," the paper says.

The portion of the speech that attacked the "weakness" of the governing Social Democratic Party impresses the paper more.

That doubts have arisen over the CDU leader's power at all is entirely her own fault

Frankfurter Allgemeine
"Merkel uses that for fierce attacks," the paper says.

"Never before has a government lost so much momentum in so short a time. Stagnation in society, frustration among the people, recession in the economy - that is the overall assessment," the paper comments.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine comments that the delegates seemed determined to send a message of their own with their rapturous reception.

"We expect leadership from our chairwoman," is the message the paper believes they were trying to transmit.

oppsoition leader
Time to celebrate
"The CDU is realising that it owes its support to the chairwoman on every demonstrable occasion in the duel of the union parties," the paper says.

"That doubts have arisen over the CDU leader's power at all is entirely her own fault.

"As much as she resists every attempt to dispute her leadership, she has so far consistently failed to play up her party's right to take precedence over its little sister (the CSU)," the paper adds.

"She knows that she cannot compete with Mr Stoiber's rhetorical fervour nor his repertoire... But, the CDU always wins more seats in parliament in a general election than the CSU - no matter who led them in the campaign," the paper concludes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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