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Germany's Greens forge ahead

The Green Party made impressive gains in two German regional elections yesterday, doubling its vote to 10 per cent in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The successes of the Greens have multiplied in the past two years, making them a potential key player in deciding the make-up of a future German government. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), received another bashing in the elections: the party was driven out of the regional parliaments in Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia, which includes Bonn.

The FDP failed to get over the 5-per-cent barrier necessary to gain seats. In Bremen, the failure was particularly galling, as it won 9 per cent in 1991. The FDP is now represented in five of the 16 state parliaments. Party officials talked of an "extraordinarily deep crisis".

Germany's regional structure means it would be almost impossible for the FDP to exist indefinitely as a real force in Bonn without representation in the regions.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, the Greens cost the Social Democrats (SPD) the absolute majority which the popular Prime minister,, Johannes Rau, haD enjoyed for 15 years - a humiliating failure for the SPD.

In Bremen the main winner was a one-off protest party, Jobs for Bremen, which gained 10 per cent, especially from disillusioned Social Democrats.

The Christian Democrats, the ruling party in Bonn, marginally improved their vote in both states, though failing to overtake the SPD.