Kohl summons up a frenzy of indifference in voters: Steve Crawshaw witnesses the battle to win voters' hearts in Offenburg

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'THE CHANCELLOR is coming,' say the posters all over town. And here he comes, the big man himself, towering over the crowds. Cheers, applause, and scornful whistles, as he walks through the crowds and steps up on to the stage.

Helmut Kohl has come to praise 'my very good friend' Wolfgang Schauble, in effect Mr Kohl's number two. Mr Schauble comes from near Offenburg, south-western Germany, and hopes to be re- elected by Offenburgers to the Bundestag, the federal parliament in Bonn.

But the direct mandates - a first-past-the-post race - are only part of the electoral game in Germany. Mr Schauble, a key political player, is certain to be re- elected. More importantly, Mr Kohl is also seeking the 'second vote', or the 'Chancellor's vote' as the posters have it.

He is selling himself up and down the country and the Christian Democrat (CDU) campaign revolves around him, personally. After 12 years as Chancellor, he is the CDU.

He is making three or more Offenburg-style appearances daily in the run-up to federal elections on 16 October. The rally this weekend attracted about 5,000 of the loyal, the sceptical and the curious.

Offenburg, in the prosperous little state of Baden-Wurttemberg, is evenly divided in its loyalties - Christian Democrats are in the majority on the council, but the mayor is a Social Democrat. The crowds, too, are divided.

Mr Kohl's real problem is to persuade the waverers. Many at the rally - including some who say that they are inclined to vote for Mr Kohl - show little active enthusiasm for the Chancellor, describing him as the lesser of two evils.

A large chunk of Mr Kohl's speech is devoted to the alleged dangers posed by the PDS, the successor to the East German Communists. As told by Mr Kohl, the PDS is readying itself to re-introduce Stalinism. The reality is different. The PDS gets the votes of the disillusioned, but is hardly interested in recreating old-style Communism. The attacks on the PDS are merely a way for Mr Kohl to score points against the Social Democrats (SPD).

Thus, a vote for the SPD is alleged to be a vote for the PDS. This is a reference to one possible outcome of the election, in which the Social Democrats and the Greens might form a minority government by grace of the PDS. Rudolf Scharping, the SDP leader, has repeatedly denied the possibility of such a deal, but to little effect.

Such an arrangement already exists in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt - to the embarrassment of the SPD, which now realises that its gaining of the premiership of Saxony-Anhalt, by courtesy of the PDS, was a propaganda own-goal.

Many at the rally seem unimpressed by the harping on about the PDS. Instead, they are inclined to pass judgement on Mr Kohl. The recent upturn in the economy means that some offer grudging praise. Also, people have got used to Mr Kohl. In addition, there is still considerable wariness of Mr Scharping.

But a large number of voters say that they have still not made up their minds. In that respect, the race is still wide open.

BONN - A leader of the far right, Franz Schoenhuber, stripped of his post as leader of Germany's Republicans Party in an internal revolt, vowed yesterday to fight in the courts what he called the illegal coup, Reuter reports.

The Republicans' leadership deposed Mr Schoenhuber at a special meeting in Bonn on Saturday because they said he had undermined the party's credibility by breaking a sacred credo of never forming links with neo-Nazi groups.

Mr Schoenhuber, the Republicans' founder and former member of the Waffen- SS, came under attack in August for meeting Gerhard Frey, head of the ultra-nationalist German People's Union.