BERLIN Jan 13 Senior German conservatives in Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party (CDU) fear a row over youth crime could hurt cooperation in the ruling coalition ahead of this month's state elections, German media said on Sunday.
CDU plans to crack down on young foreign criminals have sparked fierce exchanges between top members of the CDU and coalition partner the Social Democrats (SPD).
The dispute has centred on Roland Koch, premier of the state of Hesse, who used the case of an assault on a Munich pensioner by a German-born Turkish youth and a Greek youngster to attack the judiciary for being slow in dealing with young criminals.
He also accused some foreigners of failing to meet German hygiene standards. He hopes to be re-elected in the western state this month.
Immigrant groups say the debate is populist and xenophobic while the head of the SPD in parliament, Peter Struck, said he thought Koch was pleased the attack had happened -- comments which Merkel called "absurd".
The CDU general secretary Ronald Pofalla told Super Illu magazine the row could have "repercussions for further cooperation" between the coalition partners. "I can only urgently demand the Social Democrats back off," he said.
In comments from a letter to members of the CDU and Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union published by Welt am Sonntag, CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder said rows in the coalition had raised doubts about SPD support.
"I can't deny that many of the comments made by our coalition partners are cause for concern," Kauder said, adding he thought the SPD was not fully backing the coalition.
Koch said on Sunday the crime crackdown should also include children under 14 years old, who he said were sometimes used by adults to commit crime. "We must recognise there is a very small group of people under 14 who commit very aggressive crimes."
Koch said it would be a shame if crime issues were left to the far-right National Democratic Party, which has praised his stance. "We cannot shut our eyes to the facts because of ideological blindness!" he told Bild am Sonntag. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; editing by Elizabeth Piper)