Flipping the bird: Angela Merkel’s election opponent gives German press the finger

Social Democrat leader Peer Steinbrueck has caused controversy ahead of the German general election by making a rude gesture in a newspaper photo

The man trying to unseat Angela Merkel as German chancellor has caused a stir ahead of ballot day by making a rude hand gesture on the cover photo of a newspaper magazine.

Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck, who was being photographed for national newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung nine days ahead of the German election, raised his finger in response to a derisive comment from a journalist which called the former finance minister incompetent and compared him to Silvio Berlusconi.

The weekly magazine, which has around 1 million readers, poses questions in a format called “Don’t Say Anything Now”, which calls on interviewees to respond to provocative statements with gestures then captured on photo.

The comment that prompted 66-year-old Steinbrueck to raise his middle finger was: “You’re called Mishap Peer, Problem Peer, Peerlusconi - you’ve got no worries about being given nice nicknames?”

Steinbrueck went on to endors the photo on his Twitter account, writing: “You don’t always need words to tell it like it is. As in when you’re constantly being bombarded with old hat instead of the questions that matter.”

The politician, who trails Angela Merkel by more than 10 points in opinion polls, also defended his actions on German news channel N-TV, saying: “I think we should all have a bit of humour in an election campaign. Those who don’t should go into the basement to laugh.”

Acolytes of the incumbent German chancellor Angela Merkel took Steinbrueck’s non-verbal message less lightly and were quick to publically condemn the photograph.

Wolfgang Bosbach, an MP in Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said: “someone who presents himself like that before the elections doesn't want to become chancellor”.

Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler - Mrs Merkel's junior coalition partner - commented:“This gesture is unacceptable for a chancellor candidate. Something like that is just not on.”

Steinbrueck has courted controversy more than once already during this year’s election campaign.

He recently drew criticism from his own party, the Social Democrats, with comments that repeatedly focused on his own wallet.

The politician announced that he avoids wine that costs less than €5 (£4.18) while also stating that he believed the chancellor’s salary of €220,000 a year was too low.

Speaking after the comments on his own personal finance, Steinbrueck admitted that his campaign had not gotten off to a good start.

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