- Angela Merkel - elections - G20 - German politics - Germany
AFP - Germany's rival politicians made their final pleas for votes on Saturday, the last day of campaigning for a tense election that is forecast to hand Chancellor Angela Merkel a second term in office.
Merkel, 55, has won plaudits at home and abroad for her steady and calm leadership through the crisis that has hit Europe's top economy harder than most, and surveys indicate Germans are in no mood for change at the top.
But her centre-right party's lead over the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) has shrunk recently and tension is rising as her hopes of governing with her preferred partners -- the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) -- hang by a thread.
If Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the FDP do not secure a majority, the most likely outcome is a continuation of the "grand coalition" between the CDU and the SPD that has governed Germany uneasily for the past four years.
The SPD candidate, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 53, judged to be a weak campaigner at first, has gained in confidence and issued a rousing clarion call to some 10,000 supporters late Friday at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
"The Union is getting more nervous by the day," Steinmeier told his enthusiastic, flag-waving audience, referring to Merkel's conservatives.
"The big lead they had has melted like ice in the sunshine. We will keep fighting for every vote until the last second on Sunday at 6:00 pm," when polling stations close.
For her part, Merkel was poised to give her final speech of the campaign at a rally in Berlin around 1000 GMT.
Speaking in the US city of Pittsburgh, where she attended a summit of G20 leaders, she urged German voters to ditch the grand coalition.
"As head of the CDU, I am campaigning for a new type of coalition and I think that grand coalitions should be an exception in democratic systems, otherwise smaller parties would become too strong," she told ARD television.
But the final campaign rallies took place amid heightened security throughout the country following a series of messages from Islamic militants warning Germany over its continued presence in war-torn Afghanistan.
In a statement with German subtitles considered by experts to be a warning of a forthcoming attack, Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden called on European countries to withdraw from Afghanistan, where Germany has around 4,200 troops as part of a NATO force.
This was quickly followed by another video threatening Germany with attacks if it did not pull out of Afghanistan, this time from a German-speaking Taliban militant who called himself "Ajjub."
Speaking in German, Ajjub said: "Because of your commitment here against Islam, attacking Germany has become an attractive idea for us, the mujahideen," according to an interior ministry spokesman.
The militant said it was only a matter of time "before jihad destroys German walls" and the video showed photos of some famous German sites such as the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and Cologne Cathedral.
The unpopular mission in Afghanistan is just one of a host of problems the winner of Sunday's election with have to face, along with a record mountain of debt and Germany's worst slump in output for more than 60 years.
"Whoever receives from the voters the task of governing will need a great deal of strength, courage and optimism to overcome the challenges that lie before him, or her," Hanover's Neue Presse daily said in an editorial on Saturday.