Germany’s opposition leader has distanced herself from controversial comments by her chief ally that have hit her election campaign.
Angela Merkel’s chances of becoming the first woman Chancellor have suffered another blow after Bavarian conservative leader Edmund Stoiber denigrated eastern Germans.
It was the latest in a series of gaffes that have dented the right’s lead in opinion polls.
“Insulting voters is wrong, and it’s the last thing we need,” Merkel said. “Germany must not be divided. We can only be successful if we stand united.”
Stoiber has made the headlines again for suggesting that easterners are not as well-educated as Bavarians.
He has previously been accused of “re-building the Berlin Wall” by characterising people from the eastern regions as “frustrated.”
He said he did not accept they should be allowed to determine Germany’s fate again – alluding to his narrow defeat in elections three years ago, partlybecause of Chancellor Gerhard Schroder’s strong showing in the east.
Merkel herself has stumbled by confusing basic economic terms in interviews – piling pressure on a campaign that once looked like a walk in the park.