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German poll rivals in TV debate

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Mixed verdict on rivals' performances

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has appeared with her main rival in a TV debate, two weeks ahead of an election.

Mrs Merkel and Frank Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, discussed nuclear power, executive pay and the idea of a minimum wage.

Surveys of those watching the debate suggested there was no clear winner.

The two leaders have been in a coalition for the past four years, but Mrs Merkel wants to jettison Mr Steinmeier's centre-left SPD.

She would prefer to link her conservative CDU party with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

ANALYSIS
Steve Rosenberg
Steve Rosenberg
Berlin correspondent
It was dubbed the TV Duel. But the two contenders seemed to agree on so many issues, from Afghanistan to the financial crisis, that one of the presenters said it was more like a TV Duet.


It was always going to be difficult for these coalition partners to attack one another's record.


Mr Steinmeier said his SPD stood for more social justice, an end to nuclear power. But he appeared nervous and didn't really come out fighting.


Chancellor Merkel came across as the more relaxed of the two and the more confident.


It is unclear who made the best impression on the German public - snap polls afterwards were inconclusive.

Opinion polls suggest the CDU, with its Bavarian sister party the CSU, is on course to win enough votes for Mrs Merkel to stay on as chancellor.

Correspondents say few major areas of disagreement emerged during the 90-minute debate.

Neither of the candidates for chancellor is known for being particularly charismatic or telegenic, correspondents say.

Watched by a TV audience which was said to number 20 million, the leaders discussed Afghanistan, the global financial crisis and nuclear power.

Mrs Merkel benefits from being the chancellor right now, correspondents say.

She is best placed to take the credit for everything that has gone right recently for Germany, like the country exiting recession, and General Motors agreeing to sell Opel to the Canadian car parts supplier Magna - the very deal the German government had been seeking.

Mrs Merkel said she could return the country to prior prosperity if she changed coalition partner.

"We can continue decisively on this path but preferably with a new government," she said.

On nuclear policy, the two leaders differed.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder decided to mothball Germany's nuclear reactors by about 2020, but Mrs Merkel said the question remained about whether nuclear energy would be needed for longer.

"It is, in my view, extremely important that we change to renewable energy and efficient energy as soon as possible... but all renewable energies are subsidised... and therefore I say [nuclear energy] would be a bridging technology but only until viable renewable energies really allow this changeover."

She was criticised by Mr Steinmeier, who said: "It is not responsible, and it is politically wrong to go back down the road of nuclear energy - because that is what we are really talking about here."

The Duel

He warned that if nuclear energy was extended, then investment in renewable energy would end.

Opinion polls suggest the Social Democratic Party is at least 12% behind Mrs Merkel's centre-right bloc.

Immediately after the debate - named The TV Duel - surveys suggested there was no clear winner.

Broadcaster ZDF suggested 31% of respondents believed Mr Steinmeier had won, and 28% said Mrs Merkel.

A Forsa poll said 37% thought Mrs Merkel was the winner, against 35% for her rival.



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