Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Germany’s nuclear fears trigger Merkel party poll debacle

AFP, BERLIN

Fears over the Japan nuclear crisis triggered a crushing defeat for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in their heartland on Sunday, as the ecologist Greens roared to an historic triumph.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have ruled wealthy Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to industrial giants Daimler and Bosch, for 58 years, but her on-again, off-again support for nuclear power spooked voters ahead of the crucial poll.

The anti-nuclear Greens won a record 24 percent of the vote — more than 12 points higher than in 2006 — and were likely for the first time to lead a coalition with the Social Democrats, who garnered about 23 percent.

The opposition edged out Merkel’s party and the Free Democrats (FDP), their junior partners in the state and at the national level, who claimed a dismal 44 percent between them.

Forty-five percent of voters called nuclear power a key issue in light of the disaster in Japan and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the FDP leader, pledged another rethink in Berlin.

“The dreadful events in Japan, the nuclear accident in Fukushima and the consequences for us in Germany: These were the most decisive topics in this state election,” Westerwelle said. “It was a referendum on the future of atomic energy.”

“Today the final decision on the end of nuclear power in Germany was made,” Social Democrats leader Sigmar Gabriel said.

Green candidate Winfried Kretschmann, 62, who is expected to become the party’s first state leader in Germany after campaigning hard on the nuclear issue, claimed an “historic victory.”

“It’s a dream come true … We could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago,” added Franz Untersteller, a Greens spokesman.

The result in the state bordering France and Switzerland marked a debacle for Merkel, 56, after drubbings in North Rhine-Westphalia in May and Hamburg last month.

Calling Japan’s emergency a “turning point,” Merkel suspended for three months an earlier decision to extend the lifetime of Germany’s nuclear reactors, four of which are based in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

She also temporarily shut off the country’s seven oldest reactors pending a safety review.

Nuclear power is unpopular in Germany, but polls indicated that voters saw Merkel’s zigzagging as an electoral ploy.

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