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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 23:52 GMT
Schroeder suffers heavy poll defeat
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder has been under pressure since his re-election
The party of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has suffered crushing defeats in two key state elections.

The CDU Governor of Hesse, Premier Roland Koch, enjoys beer
CDU leaders had good reasons to celebrate
According to official preliminary results, the Social Democrats (SPD) failed to gain power in Hesse and lost their hold on Lower Saxony - Mr Schroeder's home state.

The elections are being seen as a crucial test of Mr Schroeder's four-month-old federal government.

The conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) were set to take control of Lower Saxony with 49% of the vote, and increase their majority in Hesse from 43% to 49%, according to the local election commissions.

Observers say Mr Schroeder's anti-war campaign message failed to strike a chord with voters, who were more concerned about rising taxes, unemployment and a stumbling economy.

The results give the CDU - the parliamentary opposition - an increased majority in the federal upper house, the Bundesrat. It will force Mr Schroeder to co-operate with the CDU to get laws passed.

Poll gloom

About 10 million people were eligible to vote in the two states.

Queues form outside German job centres
Germany is suffering from soaring unemployment

Casting his vote in Lower Saxony, Chancellor Schroeder refused to answer questions about his party's popularity.

"This is not an election to the Bundestag [federal lower house of parliament]," he told reporters.

The CDU's leader, Angela Merkel, expressed satisfaction with the results, stressing that Germans did not support Mr Schroeder's policy of antagonising the US on the Iraq issue.

"This is an important signal to the European allies and the American Government," Ms Merkel told the Associated Press news agency.

"I think much is at stake for German foreign policy," she said, adding that the CDU had a valuable friendship with the US "not just out of gratitude but because of the long-term security of Europe and Germany".

But correspondents say that, ironically, the regional losses may translate into a national gain for the government.

The conservative Christian Democrats are more likely than Mr Schroeder's own Social Democrats to support his tough business-friendly reform proposals.

Popularity blow

Chancellor Schroeder's government has tumbled further and faster in the opinion polls than any other post-World War II government.

Despite the popularity of the anti-war theme which helped re-elect him last year, backing for Mr Schroeder has plummeted in the face of growing economic woes at home.

The SPD said it would not make any changes to its line-up at a national level.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Katya Adler in Berlin
"A double disaster for the Social Democrats"
See also:

08 Jan 03 | Europe
08 Jan 03 | Business
06 Jan 03 | Business
12 Nov 02 | Entertainment
07 Dec 02 | Europe
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