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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 21:25 GMT 22:25 UK
Schroeder 'wins' final TV duel
Chancellor Schroeder and Mr Stoiber
Both men were ready to row this time
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is thought to have gained the edge over his conservative rival Edmund Stoiber in a live television debate, two weeks before Germany votes in general elections.

The US-style duel, the second and final one to be held before the 22 September vote, was widely seen as more engaging than the first, which saw a polite round of exchanges in which neither man achieved a decisive blow.

By contrast, both men were ready to row in this round, and clashed on a couple of issues, including unemployment and the question of a military strike against Iraq.

A poll conducted by the Infratest group immediately after the 75-minute debate said more than 50% had found the chancellor the most convincing of the two, compared to 28% for the Bavarian conservative.

Click here to see the latest poll results

Mr Schroeder's ruling Social Democrats, which trailed behind Mr Stoiber's CDU/CSU coalition in the opinion polls for months, have closed the gap on the conservative opposition in recent weeks.

Most polls now put the two parties neck-and-neck, and the debate was seen as an opportunity to gain crucial support from the millions of Germans who have not yet made up their minds.

The election campaign has been criticised as lacklustre, in part because the two parties converge on many major points of policy.

Jobless jibes

The BBC's Rob Broomby in Berlin says Mr Schroeder was back on form after his rather dull performance in the first round.

Gerhard Schroeder at Hanover rally
The economy is Mr Schroeder's weak point
An anticipated attack by the Bavarian leader on Mr Schroeder's weakest spot, the German economy and high unemployment, was handled deftly by the chancellor, with a wry smile and a stab at Mr Stoiber's own record.

The Bavarian leader has based his campaign on the fact that unemployment in his southern state is well below the national average, but Mr Schroeder pointed out that in August Bavaria recorded the highest leap in unemployment in the whole country.

The prospect of an attack on Iraq also saw for some heated debate.

Chancellor Schroeder said emphatically he was against an attack. Under his leadership, he declared, Germany would not participate.

Mr. Stoiber was less categorical and warned America not to go it alone without a United Nations resolution, but he said the chancellor had damaged diplomatic relations with America.

'Wooden' winner

Mr Stoiber, who has made some embarrassing blunders while stumbling through television interviews in the past, was trained intensely for these two appearances.

His record on unemployment in Bavaria has formed the basis of his campaign for the chancellory, but he is not as personally popular as Mr Schroeder, and he is often seen as wooden.

While Mr Schroeder's time in office has been marred by the country's economic woes, his firm resistance to an attack on an Iraq and his deft handling of the recent flood crisis are widely seen to have won him points in the crucial run-up to the 22 September elections.

However it remains unclear whether this will be sufficient for the so-called "media chancellor" to secure a second term in Berlin.


Graph showing latest poll results

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tristana Moore
"They're calling this the Formula One of German politics"
German opinion pollster Rienhardt Schlinkert
"The issue of Iraq has become more important to the Social Democratic Party"
Gerhard Schroeder

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22 Aug 02 | Business
06 Aug 02 | Europe
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