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Germany

Germany in Brief

Slight upswing for SPD in poll ratings; spat over striptease strips center of funds; number of tourists in Germany sinks; European hostages moved from Algeria to Mali.

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The number of visitors to Germany has dropped, especially in Saxony.

Slight upswing for SPD in poll ratings

Chancellor Schröder's party of Social Democrats has improved in its poll ratings for the first time in months. According to the "Politbarometer" poll conducted by ZDF public television, which was released on Friday, 32 percent of Germans would vote for SPD (up two points from last month), 46 percent for CDU/CSU (down one point) and the FDP would gain 6 percent of votes (no change) if a general election were to take place this Sunday. However, despite the slight upswing for the Social Democrats, the conservative opposition, together with the Free Democrats, would still have a clear majority in the German parliament. According to ZDF, the poll reflected, among others, voters' "long-time ties" to their various preferred parties as opposed to more short-term decisions.

Woman's center stripped of funds

The Berlin city government has cut the funding to a women's center after it was discovered it was offering striptease courses. The center, which receives some €60,000 a year in subsidies, was stripped of funds after officials found out about the course at the center's summer party. The striptease course has been running for over a year. A spokesperson for the Berlin's economics office said that it wanted to help women develop their professional working skills and did not want to assist them in learning to strip. According to striptease teacher Viola Voigt, the course is a "popular, modern and innovative programme" and pays for itself as it is not for free and does not therefore profit from public money. Voigt says the Berlin senate's demand to remove the course is unfair but claims she still has enough clients to continue with it elsewhere.

Number of tourists to Germany sinks

The number of guests in Germany's hotels and bed and breakfast accommodations has fallen. Some 32.7 million guests stayed the night in German hotels in May 2003, one percent less than in the same month the year before. The worst hit state was the eastern state of Saxony. Since June last year the tourist numbers in Germany have been continuously falling. "It would be a success for German tourism if we could keep up with last year's numbers," Christian Boergen, spokesman of the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry said. Both the war in Iraq and Germany's sluggish economy were the main reasons for this year's bad start. In particular, tourists from the U.S. were avoiding Germany due to the transatlantic rift over military action in Iraq, Boergen said. In addition, the numbers of visitors from Japan had markedly dropped due to Japan's current economic crisis, while travel from China had been checked by the rapid spread of the respiratory virus SARS.

European hostages moved from Algeria to Mali

According to ZDF television, the 15 European holidaymakers held hostage in the Sahara Desert are now in Mali, south of Algeria. The German officials are said to be in continuous contact with Mali's government. According to ZDF, there have been contacts between the Algerian government and the kidnappers but so far there has been no deal over a hoped-for imminent release. On Thursday, the Algerian newspaper El Watan reported that the 15 European holidaymakers -- ten Germans, four Swiss and a Dutch national -- who disappeared more than four months ago, could soon be released.

Ein einsamer Touristenführer in Algerien

The Algerian military had told the kidnappers they would be ensured safe conduct if they let the hostages go, the paper wrote. The kidnappers, who are thought to be members of a radical Islamic group, had apparently accepted the offer in return for further safety guarantees. However, neither the Algerian nor German authorities have confirmed the information. Another group of European holidaymakers kidnapped earlier this year was freed by the Algerian military in May.

Compiled with information from wire agencies.