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Germany

German Left-wingers Rubber-stamp Merger Plans

Former German Finance Minister Lafontaine vowed on Sunday to remain a thorn in the side of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government as his party approved plans for a merger with a fellow left-wing party.

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"Together" reads the sign in the background as Lafontaine speaks

Oskar Lafontaine's Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG) rubber-stamped the plans for the merger with the Left Party, which includes former East German communists, at a conference in the southwestern city of Ludwigshafen.

The two parties joined forces in general elections last September, winning more than 8 percent of the vote to become the fourth biggest party in Germany's lower house of parliament.

Bundesparteitag der Linkspartei PDS in Halle (Saale)

Lafontaine wants the two parties to adopt clear "anti-capitalist" policies

Having addressed his party, Lafontaine, who is the WASG's highest-profile member, used a speech to the Left Party's conference in the eastern city of Halle to urge the two parties to adopt "clear anti-capitalistic positions."

If we don't then there is no distinction between us and the other parties," he said.

He called for German law to be changed to allow general strikes to be held, "so that we can bring the government to its knees."

Lafontaine said the parties would fight against key policy decisions made by Merkel's power-sharing government of her Christian Democrats and his former party, the Social Democrats.

"Raising the retirement age to 67 and higher value-added tax are the sort of policies that we just cannot accept," Lafontaine told news channel NTV after the speech.

Bundesparteitag der Linkspartei PDS in Halle (Saale)

Lothar Bisky, left, and Gregor Gysi of the Left Party

The Left Party, which includes communists from the former East Germany, has already approved the merger, which is expected to take place in June next year.

The move has not satisfied all WASG members -- its regional branches in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have insisted they will stand alone in state elections there in September.

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