World News

Big German protests pressure Merkel before CDU meet

BERLIN (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people marched in cities across Germany on Saturday to protest against government policies and social inequality, a day before a key meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

German union umbrella group DGB, which organized the demonstrations, said nearly 100,000 people had marched in Stuttgart, Dortmund, Nuremberg and Erfurt, voicing their displeasure with Merkel’s coalition for offloading the costs of the financial crisis.

“We don’t want a republic in which powerful interest groups decide the guidelines of politics with their money, their power and their influence,” Berthold Huber, head of IG Metall, Germany’s largest trade union, told demonstrators in Stuttgart.

He demanded higher wages and the introduction of a mandatory minimum wage to give workers a share in Germany’s economic upswing, which is outpacing those of its European partners.

Merkel’s CDU hold their annual congress from November 14-16 in Karlsruhe, which will be watched closely for signs of nervousness in party ranks.

Merkel’s center-right coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) has been dogged by infighting and made little progress on its campaign promises in its first year in power, leading to a slide in its popularity.

CDU delegates will vote to re-elect Merkel as the head of the party on Monday and while the result is not in doubt, a drop in support for her leadership would highlight the level of dissatisfaction with her in the party.

Merkel has been criticized by some CDU members for not being conservative enough. Her center-right bloc now trails the center-left grouping of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens in opinion polls.

Merkel addressed that criticism in an interview with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper to be published on Sunday, saying: “Those with conservative values have always had a home in the (CDU/CSU conservative bloc) and they will always have it there but they also have to ask themselves about the incredible pace of change today.”

Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the party should consider holding a formal vote when choosing future candidates for chancellor in what could be seen as a challenge to Merkel.

Von der Leyen is a candidate to become deputy leader of the CDU and is seen as a possible successor to Merkel, whose term expires in 2013 but who could decide to run for a third term.

Germany suffered its biggest postwar recession in 2009 but has rebounded strongly this year on the back of robust exports.

She is under pressure from her coalition partners to press ahead with tax cuts promised during the election campaign but shelved as the government shifted its focus to budget consolidation.

Last week, tens of thousands protested against the extension of lifespans of Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations, and a plan to build a multi-billion euro rail station in Stuttgart despite widespread opposition has also prompted protests.

Editing by Noah Barkin