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Last Updated: Friday, 16 September 2005, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
German rivals battle to the end
CDU leader Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel accused the SPD of deception
The leaders of Germany's two main parties have made passionate speeches in Berlin, trying to sway undecided voters ahead of Sunday's election.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder warned that the economic reforms his conservative rival Angela Merkel is proposing would split society.

Mrs Merkel told supporters Mr Schroeder had failed to reduce unemployment and had no vision for the country's future.

With the race so close, both parties plan to hold rallies on Saturday.

Opinion polls have consistently put Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in the lead, but Mr Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) have been closing the gap.

Click below to see poll ratings for the parties and leaders

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin says it seems pretty clear that Mrs Merkel's conservatives will be the strongest single party. But if they do not get enough votes to rule with the liberal FDP, as she would prefer, they may be forced into an unpalatable coalition with the SPD.

At a rally in Berlin on Friday night, Mr Schroeder said Mrs Merkel was "willing but not able to lead".

Harking back to the 2002 election, when his resistance to the coming war in Iraq won him votes, Mr Schroeder said Germans must decide "whether someone is able to withstand pressure from outside and stand up for what is Germany's best interest".


At her rally, Mrs Merkel urged her supporters to push to the finish.

"We must use these last hours. There are many people who are undecided, who have worries, or who may not know what's ahead of them. We must give them courage," she said.

She slammed the government's record saying it had failed to reduce unemployment and accusing it of tricks and deception.

1. Social Democrats (SPD): 249
2. Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU): 247
3. Greens: 55
4. Free Democrats (FDP): 47
5. Others: 3

She has promised to go further than the SPD in cutting taxes and business regulation, and making welfare reforms.

The left-of-centre SPD says Mrs Merkel's policies would lead to rampant capitalism and poor social provision.

"You only need to look to America to see what poverty in old age is," Mr Schroeder told supporters in the Gendarmenmarkt, an elegant neo-classical square.

While the two main leaders traded barbs almost within shouting distance in the capital, the smaller parties tried to rally last-minute support that could increase their chances of coalition government.

In the old East German parliament building, the new Left Party presented itself, while the Greens were gathered just south of the centre to hear their campaign leader, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

With polls suggesting a quarter of voters have not have made up their minds, the parties will break with tradition and hit the road for one last day of campaigning on Saturday.

Mrs Merkel will be addressing a rally in Bonn, a CDU stronghold. Chancellor Schroeder will also be in a safe seat, with a rally in Frankfurt.

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