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Left, FDP and Green candidates in fiery TV debate

German political junkies have been treated to a TV debate for a second night running. After Chancellor Merkel and her SPD challenger faced off, candidates from three smaller parties gave viewers to a heated exchange.

After Sunday's debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrat (SPD) Peer Steinbrück, the man who wants to take her job, Rainer Brüderle of the Free Democrats (FDP), the Greens' leading candidate, Jürgen Trittin, and Gregor Gysi of the Left party locked horns on Monday evening.

The tone of Monday's debate among the smaller party candidates was much more spirited than the one between the chancellor and her challenger, in which many saw the chancellor's necklace in the colors of the German flag as the most memorable feature.

The two hosts of the debate, both seasoned interviewers on German public television, often had difficulty keeping order between Brüderle, Trittin and Gysi.

Among the main bones of contention were possible tax increases and budgetary policy.

Brüderle, of the business-friendly FDP, accused Trittin and the Greens of planning to increase taxes, if they wind up being part of a coalition government after the election.

Trittin accused the FDP for what he described as the failure of Chancellor Merkel's coalition, in which Brüderle's party is the junior partner, to successfully implement a major reform in Germany's energy policy, which is to see the country phase out the use of nuclear energy.

Gysi, whose party is in part the successor to the former East German communists, accused the other two of being to blame for the plight of the jobless.

Minimum wage debate

Another issue that sparked heated debate was the idea of introducing a minimum wage. Here, the Green and Left candidates ganged up on their FDP counterpart.

Trittin pointed to the fact that other European Union countries such as Britain and the Netherlands had long since introduced a minimum wage and that it was German government policy to supplement the wages of Germans who work fulltime but don't earn enough to make ends meet.

Gysi put the percentage of low earners in Germany at 25 percent and echoed the words of Peer Steinbrück on Sunday, saying that "human dignity demands that people working full time be paid a wage that they can live on."

Brüderle countered with the argument that a minimum wage would lead to job losses.

Germans go to the polls in a general election on September 22. Recent opinion polls indicate that Chancellor Merkel's coalition of her conservative CDU and FDP is likely to get more votes than Steinbrück's SPD and their preferred coalition partners, the Greens. However, the polls also indicate that the FDP is in danger of failing to clear the five-percent hurdle, which could force the chancellor to seek a different coalition partner.

Following the 2005 election, she led a so-called "grand coalition" with the SPD in which Steinbrück served as finance minister.

pfd/kms (dpa, Reuters)