Internet chain letter calls for Schroeder's resignation

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The Independent Online

Growing dissent over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's plans to reform the German economy was dramatically underscored yesterday following revelations that rebel members of his own party had circulated an internet chain letter demanding his immediate resignation.

The letter, drawn up by Social Democrat party members, traditional party voters and trade unionists, was addressed to all members of the ruling party and demanded that the government roll back its ambitious Agenda 2010 reform programme.

"We appeal to every one to act now: Schroeder must go! - the government must change course immediately," the letter demanded. "We are convinced that there is no other remedy that could halt the crisis within our party and bring a return to genuine Social Democracy: Schroeder must go - whether he wants to or not!" it added.

The letter, which was leaked to a regional newspaper in Mr Schroeder's home town of Hanover yesterday, came as a grave embarrassment to the Social Democrat leadership, which has been fighting a losing battle to convince voters of the need to implement the government's unpopular reform programme.

Party officials at Social Democrat headquarters in Berlin refused to comment on the existence of the letter yesterday, claiming they had not seen it. "We have not got a copy of this letter, so obviously we cannot pass judgement," a spokesman said.

The call for Mr Schroeder's resignation was the latest development in a growing anti-reform backlash in Germany led by trade unionists, disgruntled voters and Social Democrat party dissidents.

Mounting opposition to Agenda 2010 has been mirrored by the government's own record unpopularity and the decision by thousands of Social Democrat rank and file members to quit the party. Most recent opinion polls have given Mr Schroeder's party only 26 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent for the opposition conservatives.

Mr Schroeder's reforms have been supported by German business leaders who see them as an albeit cautious attempt to turn around the country's stagnant economy and cut unemployment, which yesterday hit 4.36 million - the highest July figure since German reunification in 1990.

However, the government is bracing itself for further mass protests over the introduction of the reform package's toughest elements.

Under the government's so-called Harz 1V ruling, the long-term unemployed will have their benefits cut to social security levels at the beginning of next year.

The measures are certain to hit unemployment-plagued east Germany the hardest and have provoked a storm of protest from state prime ministers in the region. Last week, thousands of demonstrators in the east German cities of Magdeburg and Dessau took to the streets to vent their anger.

In Leipzig, where opposition to the former East German Communist regime began in 1989, church leaders declared yesterday that they planned to hold regular church services and demonstrations in the city again to protest against the reforms.

"The discontent is threatening," said Christian Fuehrer, the Protestant pastor who headed the protest movement of 1989. "We need another mass movement to bring about a second peaceful revolution in Germany," he added.