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Germany

Bavaria's Conservatives are off the Hook

Prosecutors have dropped a probe into the finances of Bavaria's conservative CSU party. For a few days it appeared this could turn into another party-financing scandal.

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Edmund Stoiber (left) and Angela Merkel. One of them will be the conservatives' candidate for chancellor.

German prosecutors dropped a probe into Bavaria's conservative party (CSU) on Thursday.

The probe threatened to overshadow an internal battle among Germany's conservatives over who should be their candidate in this year's general elections.

Who should be candidate?

The conservative choice is between Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber, who heads the CSU and Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel.

A judicial investigation into the CSU's financial dealings would have hurt Stoiber in his quest to become the conservatives' candidate for chancellor.

As the German economy has sagged in recent months, the conservatives have narrowed the opinion poll gap with Schröder's Social Democrats.

Opinion polls show Edmund Stoiber would have better chances of beating Schröder than Merkel.

But as head of the CDU, Angela Merkel has a bigger party-base she can draw on than Stoiber, whose CSU only exists in Bavaria.

And since Merkel is from eastern Germany, she could help win over people in the former GDR. In addition, she would be Germany's first female candidate for chancellor and could win votes from women.

Stern allegations

The allegations against the CSU were brought up by Germany's Stern magazine. In its latest issue, Stern claims the CSU has improperly obtained federal funds by listing subscriptions to party newspapers as donations.

But Prosecutor Horst Lehmpuhl on Thursday said there were no grounds to probe the CSU. He said the parliamentary administration had approved classifying subscriptions as donations in 1996.

CSU General-Secretary Thomas Goppel slammed the timing of Stern's allegations, saying they were aimed at undermining Stoiber's bid to become chancellor.

Germany will go to the polls on September 22, 2002.

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