UPDATE - German Greens debate war, future in government
ROSTOCK, Germany - Leaders of Germany\'s Greens urged the pacifist party\'s members on the weekend not to jeopardise its future and bring down the coalition government over German involvement in the Afghan conflict.
About 800 grassroots delegates arrived in the northern port city of Rostock to a vocal reception and whistles from anti-war demonstrators for a congress that Greens leaders said would tear at the soul of the party.
But the Greens, junior partners in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder\'s ruling coalition, said they nevertheless expected a majority of the delegates to back the decision to make available some 3,900 German soldiers for the U.S.-led war.
\"This is the most difficult decision in the history of our party,\" said Greens co-leader Claudia Roth. \"I hope that after a thorough discussion the delegates will endorse what we\'ve done.\"
Parliament narrowly voted a week ago to deploy troops after some Greens ended their opposition at the last minute. All but four of their 47 members of parliament toed the coalition line.
If delegates vote against their leaders, Schroeder\'s Social Democrat-Greens government could collapse, forcing the chancellor to find a new coalition partner, possibly the pro-business Free Democrats, or to call early elections. Elections are only due next autumn.
If they are held the party would face an uncertain future. Recent opinion polls showed Greens support hovering around five percent, the minimum required for representation in parliament.
A vote is not expected until 2000 GMT at the earliest.
Germany begins its troop mobilisation on Monday with an initial deployment of air transport and medical crew. On Tuesday, Afghan ethnic and political leaders will gather in the former capital Bonn for talks to forge an interim government. Greens leaders have been keen to stress the prospects for peace.
VOCAL OUTSIDE, HEATED WITHIN
The grassroots could force the Greens\' members of parliament to withdraw from the coalition. A number of regional party leaders have recently quit the Greens out of disgust for its support of the war in Afghanistan.
\"If Germany goes through with this policy, we\'ve learnt nothing from two world wars,\" said Werner Kuhn at a rally outside. Kuhn, a long-time Greens member, said he quit in 1999 when the party supported sending German troops to Kosovo.
Nearby Heinz Born, a World War Two veteran holding an anti-war placard, produced a small fragment of a mortar round. \"I\'ve experienced war and an American bomb put this into my lungs. War kills the innocent and this is happening again,\" the 83-year-old said.
Posters portrayed Joschka Fischer, foreign minister and best known Green, in combat gear with rifle in hand.
\"Fischer on his peace mission,\" they read.
The Greens leadership has put forward a proposal in favour of staying in government, but stressing their anti-war credentials and their \"critical\" support of the United States - contrasting with Schroeder\'s pledge of \"unlimited\" support.
\"I want to continue the coalition because it is good for the people and for this country... We are a strong party because we are divided at times, but ready to make compromises for a common goal,\" Roth told delegates.
Fischer, who talked of \"trouble, trouble, trouble\" this weekend, made an impassioned appeal to fellow Greens.
\"I ask for your confidence. I want you to support my politics here with this congress and not to leave me alone,\" he said, ending his speech near to tears.
Fischer endured a few hecklers, but many delegates gave him a standing ovation for almost three minutes as he ended.
Other leaders have taken a similar tack, urging members not to risk a three-year alliance that has forced through major Green policies - phasing out nuclear power, raising energy taxes and legalising same-sex marriages.
The Greens are no strangers to fiery debate, but have patched together consensus in the past - in 1999, over Kosovo, last year over the phasing out of nuclear power.
Analysts believe the party leadership will again squeeze through enough support to stay in power.
\"They\'re going to have some heated discussions. It all depends on conference dynamics, but I can\'t quite imagine they\'ll decide to drop out of government,\" said Bernhard Wessels, political scientist at Berlin\'s Free University.
Story by Philip Blenkinsop
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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