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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 22:02 GMT 23:02 UK
Schroeder lashes out at Liberals
Gerhard Schroeder speaks at SPD conference
Stirring stuff: Schroeder rallies the troops
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has lashed out at the liberal FDP party, saying a recent row over anti-Semitism in the party had made it unsuitable to share government with the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD).


Whoever thinks it is not that important to fight against programmes of intolerance and injustice will get a nasty surprise after the election

Gerhard Schroeder
In a rousing pre-election speech to Social Democrat delegates in Berlin, he said the Liberals - who have been touted as potential coalition partners in the next administration - were "willing but not able to govern".

The FDP unleashed a political storm when one of its prominent politicians said that German Jewish leaders were party to blame for the growth of anti-Semitism in the country.

Their party leader, Guido Westerwelle, has since distanced himself from the comments, made by Juergen Moellemann, but has not apologised for them.

Shaky greens

"We cannot allow narrow-minded prejudices to be stirred up to win a few votes," Mr Schroeder said.

In a reference to the rise of support for right-wing parties in France and the Netherlands, Mr Schroeder said the experience of other European countries showed that "whoever thinks it is not that important to fight against the danger of regression, against programmes of intolerance and injustice, will get a nasty surprise after the election".

Edmund Stoiber
Edmund Stoiber: Leading the CDU assault
But correspondents say Mr Schroeder has nonetheless left the door open to the Liberals, with the implication that if they put the racism row behind them, they might once again be suitable partners.

The SPD government is currently supported by the Greens, but opinion polls show the smaller party attracting only around 6% of the vote - dangerously close to the 5% threshold required for a party to get into parliament.

In his speech, the chancellor did give his firm backing to Foreign Minister and leading Green Joschka Fischer - saying he would like to see him back in his job after the elections.

However, that is no guarantee of a place in government for the Greens.

There are suggestions that Mr Fischer - who is one of Germany's most popular politicians - might leave the party in order to keep his place in government.

Morale-booster

Delegates gave the chancellor's speech, which was aimed at boosting flagging party morale, a 10-minute standing ovation.

Party workers have been discouraged by a series of opinion polls putting the SPD around six points behind the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), who are campaigning under Bavarian Edmund Stoiber.

"Some want to write us off or talk us down... but they have celebrated too early. What matters is not who starts ahead but who reaches the goal first," Mr Schroeder said to loud cheers.

He appealed for unity and hard work in mobilising the vote, in what was seen as an attempt to include grass-roots members more in a political programme which has focused largely on the personal popularity of the chancellor.

The latest polls put the CDU/CSU on 39%, the SPD on 33%, the FDP on 11% and the Greens on 6%.

See also:

29 May 02 | Europe
23 May 02 | Business
23 May 02 | Europe
08 May 02 | Country profiles
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