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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Eyewitness: Schroeder rallies the heartland
Gerhard Schroeder (r) and Goran Persson (l)
Schroeder's (r) high-profile backing from Goran Persson

Gerhard Schroeder wastes no time at this rally trying to make this packed stadium feel as though their entire onward existence is at the heart of his election campaign.

The chancellor has come to Dortmund, the former industrial town in his Social Democrats' (SPD) stronghold region of North Rhine Westphalia, for his penultimate rally - the city, he promptly reminds them, which is the "heart of Social Democracy".

There are cheers, Mr Schroeder smiles confidently, winningly.

It is not the performance of a man who is entering Sunday's general election virtually neck-and-neck with his conservative challenger.

But he believes he has reason to be cheerful.

Guenther Grass
Guenther Grass warned of the right-wing threat
Standing next to him on the stage is Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, the Social Democrat whose left-of-centre government has not just held on to power, but increased its share of the vote in elections last weekend, bucking the European trend to a right-ward shift.

On the other side is the esteemed and staunchly left-wing writer Guenther Grass, there to remind everyone that they have to turn out to vote this weekend. Or else.

Mr Schroeder has lavished special attention on North Rhein Westphalia, the largest German state, during the closing stages of his campaign.

It may be the heartland of the SPD, but there are fears that the failure of Mr Schroeder's government to bring down the region's high unemployment may keep disappointed voters at home on Sunday.


He's always nice to watch on stage

Ulrike Fricke
Mr Schroeder and his celebrity friends are here to bring out the vote, to make Dortmund feel special.

If they don't turn out, Mr Schroeder warns in a speech littered with references to "solidarity", "equality", "fairness", watch the conservatives and their neo-liberal partners transform German society into one of greedy individuals trampling on each other.

He then moves seamlessly into his example of such solidarity, with "neighbours helping neighbours" when the country was hit by catastrophic flooding in recent weeks.

His handling of the disaster is widely believed to have helped him catch up on the slight lead the conservatives had held in the opinion polls.

Quickly through education and opportunities for women and then it's on to America, reiterating his hostility to military action against Iraq.

It is a theme which has become a staple part of Mr Schroeder's campaign and one which has caused more than a little irritation in Washington.

Holger Gesing
Holger Gesing: Nervous ahead of election day
Friends, Mr Schroeder said, should listen to each other.

"I like that he has taken up the Iraq issue," said Ulrike Fricke, a pensioner.

"Germany has enough wars behind her, and we certainly don't need another one.

"It was a good speech, nothing particularly new. But he is always nice to watch on stage."

Lacking major policy differences with his conservative rivals - a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union - Mr Schroeder is hoping this very stage presence will take him the extra mile on Sunday.

During his 45 minute address, he woos the crowd.

He leans across his podium, he shakes his fist in anger at the problems in Germany, which he has led for the past four years.

He asks for another chance to make good on what he has started.

Those coming out of Dortmund's stadium liked what they saw tonight.

But they all said the race was still too close for comfort.

"Election day is going to be so tense," said Holger Gesing, a student.

Because Sunday could see this charming chancellor booted from Berlin.

Gerhard Schroeder

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19 Sep 02 | Europe
20 Sep 02 | Media reports
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