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Steinbrueck takes stark stance

Peer Steinbrueck

Peer Steinbrueck

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s challenger in the approaching German election, Peer Steinbrueck, took a stark stance against Western military action in Syria today in a play to anti-war sentiment ahead of their only TV duel in the campaign.

After two days of telephone diplomacy by Merkel, who faces a tricky balancing act between backing Germany’s allies while heeding German voters’ opposition to an attack, Steinbrueck tried to differentiate himself in typically blunt style.

“I want to make it quite clear for myself and for the SPD (Social Democrats) that we believe a military intervention would be wrong because we cannot see how it would help the people in Syria,” the center-left politician told reporters.

Steinbrueck, 66, is struggling to make a dent in the conservative chancellor’s popularity ahead of the September 22 election, when she will be seeking a third term.

He may hope to boost his chances by heeding pacifist strains in German society, especially on the left, as SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder did in his 2002 campaign by staunchly opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The SPD wants to help the international community “break out of this military logic”, said Steinbrueck, proposing that the US and Russian presidents and the heads of the United Nations and Arab League focus instead on negotiating a ceasefire.

Merkel has said that Syrian President Bashar-al Assad’s government, embroiled in civil war with rebels, should not go unpunished over what the United States said was its use of internationally banned chemical weapons on August 21, an attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb.

But she has not explicitly come out publicly in favour of military action, for which Washington is preparing. Assad has denied resorting to poison gas, blaming rebels for the attack. (Reuters)

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