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Merkel urges action on terrorism and economy

Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Wednesday not to be blackmailed by kidnappers holding a German in Iraq and said terrorism was a threat to core values of freedom, tolerance and respect.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sets out her government's agenda as she makes her first major parliamentary speech in Berlin, on Wednesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sets out her government's agenda as she makes her first major parliamentary speech in Berlin, on Wednesday.Markus Schreiber / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Wednesday not to be blackmailed by kidnappers holding a German in Iraq and said terrorism was a threat to core values of freedom, tolerance and respect.

At the outset of her first major speech to parliament, Merkel focused on the kidnapping of a German woman who was seized in Iraq on Friday and has been threatened with death.

“One thing is clear. This government, this parliament will not let itself be pressured,” Merkel said, calling international terrorism one of society’s biggest challenges.

“It is directed at everything that is important to us, at the core of our civilization. It is directed against our entire value system. Against freedom, tolerance and the respect of human dignity, democracy and the rule of law.”

Susanne Osthoff’s kidnappers will kill her unless Germany halts cooperation with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, according to a tape received by a German television station.

Economic priorities
Merkel, who become Germany’s first woman chancellor last Tuesday, then veered quickly into domestic economic issues which her new government has said are its priority.

She sits at the top of an unwieldy “grand coalition” with traditional rivals, which combines her conservatives with the Social Democrats (SPD) of her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder.

She faces the tough challenge of holding the new government together while cutting high unemployment and restarting growth.

Merkel, the 51-year old pastor’s daughter who grew up in the communist east, offered a sober view of Germany’s economy, which has among the weakest growth rates in the 25-nation European Union and is struggling with joblessness of over 11 percent.

“Our growth hasn’t picked up in years. Our debt has risen to alarming levels. The new (eastern) states stopped catching up years ago,” Merkel said.

But she said her new coalition government had a unique opportunity to solve these problems if it worked together.

“A government of action will have to take some blows. But we will show one thing: We have major potential in our country. Germany is full of opportunities -- inside and outside.”

Foreign policy
Merkel became Germany’s eighth post-war chancellor two months after her conservatives narrowly beat Schroeder’s SPD in an early general election. Unable to form a ruling alliance with her preferred partners, Merkel was forced to form a government with the SPD.

The governing parties reached a coalition agreement in a month of tough negotiations which aims to cut the German budget deficit to within EU limits by 2007, mainly through an increase in sales tax.

While her government may ultimately judged on its ability to spur the German economy, her first week as chancellor has been dominated by foreign policy issues.

She traveled to Paris, Brussels and London in the days after her confirmation in Germany’s top post and her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier concluded a trip to Washington on Tuesday.

Merkel has vowed to improve relations with the United States after Schroeder’s clash with Washington over the Iraq war.

But that may prove more of a challenge after the kidnapping of the 43-year old German archaeologist in Iraq and amid mounting questions in Germany about America’s tactics in its war on terrorism and U.S. handling of detainees.