Angela Merkel asks Dresden voters to support her party

Germany's conservative leader Angela Merkel on Friday urged voters in the eastern city of Dresden to strengthen her party in a weekend ballot that will conclude the country's election, arguing that a strong result would allow her to put a "strong signature" on the new government.

Merkel and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder both hope that Sunday's vote in Dresden, which was delayed because of a candidate's death, will give them a boost in their power struggle. Schroeder also was campaigning in Dresden on Friday.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and Schroeder's Social Democrats are likely to together form Germany's next government after voters denied both of them majorities for their preferred center-left and center-right alliances. But both leaders claim the mandate to lead a so-called "grand coalition."

"Strengthen the CDU - that is important, because we want to be able to put a strong signature on the next government," Merkel said at a rally.

The Dresden district has 219,000 eligible voters. Sunday's vote is not expected to change substantially the inconclusive result that emerged in the rest of Germany on Sept. 18, the AP says.

Schroeder and Merkel, however, hope to gain a psychological advantage as they prepare for coalition talks. Merkel suggested that it might prompt Schroeder to back off his claim.

Germany needs "new policies, and those can only be policies that the CDU has a significant hand in forming," she said. "When the polling stations close in Dresden, I am certain that the chancellor will gradually see that too."

The outcome could marginally extend or erode the thin lead held by Merkel's conservatives.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and their Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, have 225 seats in the new parliament. Schroeder's Social Democrats have 222.

"We are the strongest group, you can contribute to making us stronger," Merkel told the Dresden voters.

In the last election in 2002, the Dresden district elected a CDU lawmaker by a narrow margin.


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