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Germany

Schröder Vows to Face Angry Easterners

Despite growing anger in the eastern part of Germany over the government's labor market reforms and social welfare cuts, Chancellor Schröder has said he will not avoid the region.

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The chancellor didn't get a friendly reception in eastern Germany

In an interview with RTL television, Schröder on Thursday said opposition to his reforms he most likely would encourage him to "increase his political presence in the East rather than limit it."

During a visit to the eastern state of Brandenburg on Tuesday, a woman tried to throw an egg at Schröder and he was met by hundreds of other people who booed and whistled. The egg hit a TV camera and a secret service agent.

Anger over the government’s welfare cuts is especially strong in eastern Germany because the majority of the 3 million people who are affected by them live there. The new measures include stiff means-testing and deep cuts in monthly benefit payments for the long-term unemployed.

Brandenburg's Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm said on Friday that Schröder should avoid further forays into the region. "For social calm it would now be better if Chancellor Schröder avoided the eastern states for the time being," Schönbohm told the BZ newspaper.

But Schöder said instead there would simply be increased security at his appearances. "Everybody will understand that there are some risks that some people could use in a really bad way have to be avoided," he said, adding violent protests were leading to "the destruction of a political culture and nobody really wants that."

Monday protests continue

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder spricht am Mittwoch, 18. August 2004, auf seiner alljaehrlichen Sommerpressekonferenz

Some 80,000 protesters took to the streets on Monday evening in mass rallies against Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s welfare reforms throughout Germany.

It was the third wave of so-called "Monday Demonstrations," a term used by Eastern Germans during their protests in 1989 that toppled communism in the region and paved the way for German unification. Curiously enough, the protests in the east this time are directed against a democratically elected government and it’s the former communists of the leftist PDS party that stands to profit most in coming state elections in September.

Although Schröder's Social Democrats continue to get hammered in local elections and wallow near all-time lows in national opinion polls, he said he remained confident that his center-left coalition with the Greens would be re-elected in 2006. Schröder said public attitudes toward his reforms would turn once Germans saw the economic benefits.

"People will eventually understand the reform process and we will gain recognition for that," Schröder told RTL.

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