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Air strike could be electoral issue for Merkel

Video by Thomas ADAMSON

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-08

An air strike that killed civilians in Afghanistan last week could become an issue for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, ahead of elections on September 27. Merkel was set to give an explanation for what happened to the Bundestag on Tuesday.

AFP - Chancellor Angela Merkel faced tough questions in parliament on Tuesday over an air strike in Afghanistan that has brought the mission into sharp focus ahead of German elections on September 27.
  
Merkel was due to address the Bundestag lower house at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) after opposition parties called for a full explanation of Friday's air strike following conflicting reports about the number and identity of those killed.
  
Friday's air raid in northern Kunduz province killed at least 54 people, according to local officials, who say the dead were mostly Taliban militant fighters who had hijacked two fuel tankers.
  
But other sources put the death toll far higher and there are contradictory reports about the number of civilians killed in the strike.
  
The Taliban, waging an increasingly deadly insurgency since they were ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001, on Monday sent a statement by email listing names and professions of 79 civilians it claimed died in the attack.
  
An earlier Taliban statement had put the number of civilians killed at 150.
  
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner described the strike as a "big mistake" while Afghan President Hamid Karzai blasted the German commander's call in an interview with French daily Le Figaro: "What an error of judgement!"
  
The German defence ministry said on Monday that it had feared that the Taliban would use the fuel trucks as mobile bombs to kill German and Afghan government troops, calling the strike "militarily necessary and correct".
  
Germany only began major military deployments abroad a decade ago, breaking a postwar taboo, and the air strike has moved what was already an unpopular mission up the agenda ahead of general elections in less than three weeks.
  
Although pollsters say Merkel's conservatives are virtually assured of victory, they hope to ditch their current partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), and link up with the smaller, liberal Free Democratic Party.
  
All three parties support the Afghan mission, as do the Greens. The only party in the Bundestag to call for Germany's 4,200 troops to come home now is the far-left Die Linke, which has called a demo in Berlin on Tuesday.
  
Merkel has refused to name a date for a withdrawal, but on Sunday she unveiled a joint German-British-French proposal for an international conference this year to pressure Karzai's government to take on more responsibilities.
  
Merkel said the Afghan authorities must be made to understand "that we will not remain forever," she said on German television late on Monday, calling for coalition forces to achieve real progress by 2014.

Date created : 2009-09-08

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