Image: Guard at Frankfurt airport
Michael Probst  /  AP
A German federal police officer stands in the terminal of the International Airport of Frankfurt, Germany, on Thursday. The U.S. State Department is cautioning Americans in Germany to be particularly careful in coming weeks because of a threat from al-Qaida.
updated 9/26/2009 9:05:47 PM ET 2009-09-27T01:05:47

Ignoring threats by Islamic militants, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her main rival held their final political rallies Saturday before Germany's national election, focusing on the key domestic issues of jobs and economic recovery.

Two videos surfaced Friday — one by al-Qaida and another by the Taliban — threatening retaliation for Germany's military presence in Afghanistan. The Taliban video showed top German landmarks like the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and Munich's world-renowned Oktoberfest.

In response, authorities on Saturday banned all flights over Oktoberfest until it ends on Oct. 4. The annual 16-day beer festival, which was targeted by a student bomber in 1980, draws some 6 million visitors from around the globe.

Security had been already tightened around the country after the first Islamic threats two weeks ago, with many more officers now visible at airports and train stations.

Merkel hopes to win a second four-year term in Sunday's national election and ditch her conservative party's "grand coalition" with her main rivals, the center-left Social Democrats, led by her foreign minister and challenger, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The 55-year-old chancellor wants to form a new center-right government with her preferred partners, the pro-business Free Democrats.

"Germany needs stability," Merkel told supporters on Saturday. "Stability is only possible with a strong (Christian Democratic) Union in a coalition with the FDP."

Polls: Race close
But a poll published Friday underlined how close Sunday's race could be, with Merkel's sound lead being whittled away in the past weeks.

The survey by the Forsa institute showed her Christian Democrats with only 33 percent of the vote, compared to 37 percent over the summer. The Social Democrats polled 25 percent and the Free Democrats had 14 percent, enough for a razor-thin lead with the Christian Democrats.

The Greens polled at 10 percent and the Left party at 12 percent. However, the two major parties have ruled out any coalition with the Leftists.

The survey of 2,001 people gave a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

At his party's final rally in Dresden, Steinmeier accused Merkel of lacking the creativity to govern and warned that a victory for her party and the Free Democrats would benefit only the wealthy.

"Tomorrow's election is not just a decision for the next four years, but will decide (Germany's) direction for the coming decade," Steinmeier said.

Some 62.2 million Germans are eligible to vote. Germany is the world's second biggest exporter after China and the biggest economy in the 27-nation European Union. Despite pressure from other EU nations to back a bigger stimulus plan, Merkel has kept the country's unemployment rate hovering around 8 percent during the financial crisis using government-supported short-term contracts.

Bin Laden statement
The role of Germany's more than 4,200 troops in Afghanistan has leapt into the spotlight after al-Qaida issued a string of threatening videos aimed at Germans.

Yet with both Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats supporting the Afghan mission, it is unlikely the threats will have a major impact on the election. Only the Left party supports an immediate withdrawal of German troops, and it remains a marginal force.

"At the moment, I am expecting that the terror alerts will generate no direct reaction of the voters at all, at least no reactions that could lead to a change of voting behavior," said Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University.

In an audiotape that surfaced Friday, Osama bin Laden demanded that European countries pull their troops out of Afghanistan and threatened "retaliation" against them for their alliance with the United States in the war.

"Your operation here against Islam makes an attack on Germany tempting for us mujahedeen," a German-speaking Taliban fighter in Afghanistan identified as Ajjub said in a separate message released Friday by the Taliban.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Saturday that, given the recurring threats over the past two weeks, police have been closely monitoring terror suspects. The newspaper, citing unnamed security sources, said 19 apartments of German converts to Islam were searched in five different cities on Wednesday.

President Horst Koehler urged Germans go to the polls, saying the right to vote was not something to take for granted.

"People have died for the free, secret and equal right to vote. It's our democracy and we should not weaken it," Koehler said in a statement.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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