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Germany

Schröder, Merkel in Final Campaign Battle

As coalition talks continued, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and rival Angela Merkel hit the campaign trail one last time ahead of Sunday's delayed vote in Dresden, attacking each other as unqualified to lead the country.

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Schröder drew the bigger crowds in Dresden

While the political camps in Berlin continued to work out the details of a coalition to provide the country with a new government following the inconclusive general election on Sept. 18, in Dresden, the candidates swung back into full campaign mode on Friday, vying for advantage in the late-voting district.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and conservative leader Angela Merkel delivered their now familiar messages on the stump in Dresden. They each claimed to have won a mandate in the elections, and they each insisted that the other was unfit to lead the country.

Schröder draws more supporters

Both camps held their rallies at the same time, just 3 km (2 miles) apart. Schröder's camp, however, drew five times as many supporters as Merkel's. He was loudly cheered by an estimated 5,000-strong crowd when he accused Merkel of lacking the strength to stand up for peace if "powerful world leaders" were to try to pressure Germany into war.

"It's not just enough to have the will, it's a question if she's able to stand up to a powerful partner," Schröder said. "She hasn't and that's why she's not capable of leading Germany.

Schröder largely secured his 2002 victory by refusing to join the US-led coalition in the war on Iraq. His peace stance is a strong advantage for him in the formerly communist east.

Merkel claims victory

Merkel in Dresden

German Chancellor candidate and Chairwoman of the German party Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel speaking in Dresden

Merkel was equally aggressive as she spoke to a crowd of around 900 people, pointing to the fact that her party won more votes in the Sept. 18 election.

"The SPD-Greens government has been voted out of power," Merkel said. "That's already known before the Dresden election. When the polls have closed in Dresden, I am sure that the chancellor will slowly see that too."

Both sides spoke of the importance of the Dresden vote, as though it could be the decisive factor to end the current election chaos. But for days now, analysts in Berlin have played down the significance of the late vote, saying it won't fundamentally change anything.

Sunday's results are not likely to determine which candidate will win the protracted battle for the chancellorship. Though leading conservative politicians have upped pressure on Schröder to step aside, the SPD leadership has strongly refuted rumors that Schröder is planning to throw in the towel on Monday.

Currently, the conservative alliance of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) hold a three-seat advantage over Schröder's SPD. While Schröder has virtually no chance of eliminating the three-seat gap, Germany's voting system means he could gain a seat or two, strengthening his hand in the negotiations with Merkel that insiders are predicting will lead to a grand coalition.

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