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German chancellor gears up for unprecedented TV debate with conservative opponent

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, with polls showing him gaining momentum ahead of next month's election, headed into an unprecedented TV debate with his conservative challenger.

Up to 10 million viewers were forecast to tune in yesterday to watch Schroeder and Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber face off in the first of two prime-time television duels Germany's first one-on-one debate between the top candidates for national office.

A good showing to kick off the final month of campaigning could be crucial for Schroeder, who tends to come across as more polished on TV than his challenger and is far more popular than his governing party, the Social Democrats.

He drew confidence from new polls in recent days that showed a jump in his approval rating already higher than Stoiber's and in support for his party in the aftermath of floods that caused billions in damage in Germany this month.

The floods gave Schroeder a chance to show leadership and he seized it, leaving the opposition squabbling over how to react as he announced plans to delay income tax cuts set for next year and bump up corporate taxes to pay for cleanup and rebuilding.

"People observe very carefully how a government reacts in such a crisis, whether they can count on the chancellor," Schroeder said in an interview Saturday in the Cologne newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger.

But Stoiber, a methodical man who has been staging mock debates with his top aides, insisted the election would turn on Germany's sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment the main themes he is hammering home in his campaign for Sept. 22 parliamentary elections.

"People know that he (Schroeder) has failed completely in combating the second national catastrophe: unemployment," Stoiber was quoted yesterday as saying in the Welt am Sonntag weekly.

Political analysts and party aides have argued for days over how much impact the debates will have, but Schroeder has made them an important part of his strategy especially with polls showing about a third of the electorate undecided.


Islamic group seeks Gov. Jeb Bush's leadership in mosque bomb plot investigation

Associated Press

MIAMI A Muslim group yesterday asked Gov. Jeb Bush to provide leadership in the investigation of a doctor suspected of plotting to blow up dozens of mosques and an Islamic education center.

Altaf Ali, executive director of the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also asked that the state provide security at mosques until the threat of more attacks has passed.

"We are really concerned about the safety of our children and the individuals that attend the mosques in Florida," Ali said.

Robert J. Goldstein, 37, was arrested Friday and charged with possession of a non-registered destructive device and attempting to use an explosive to damage and destroy Islamic centers.

He was being held without bail Sunday.

When police searched his home, they found a cache of up to 40 weapons, including .50-caliber machine guns and sniper rifles.

They also uncovered more than 30 explosive devices, including hand grenades and a 5-gallon gasoline bomb with a timer attached.

Ali said Bush should publicly condemn the plot and be more involved in the investigation. The Muslim organization is trying to arrange a meeting with the governor, he said.

A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately return a call Sunday.

U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agent Carlos Baixauli said Sunday that no new arrests had been made but declined further comment.

Goldstein has no listed telephone number and his lawyer did not immediately return a call Sunday.

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