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War museum first test of Merkel's new term of office
By Maria Sheahan

A CONSERVATIVE German politician who campaigns for the rights of her countrymen expelled from Poland after the Second World War is causing the first headache for chancellor Angela Merkel's new government.

Erika Steinbach yesterday reaffirmed her desire to head a new war museum, raising the pressure on Ms Merkel to settle a dispute within her coalition.

Ms Steinbach, head of the League of Expellees and a member of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, has been a driving force behind the museum, which will depict the plight of Germans and other groups forced out of eastern Europe after the war.

But Ms Steinbach is deeply unpopular in Poland for forcefully pushing the interests of expellees and has created divisions in Ms Merkel's government, which took power last month.

Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle of the Free Democrats is opposed to giving Ms Steinbach a seat on the board of the museum because it could damage relations with Warsaw, and he has vowed to veto her appointment, which the cabinet must approve.

But Ms Steinbach has the backing of CDU members and the Bavarian Christian Social Union, whose leader, Horst Seehofer, has warned Mr Westerwelle to back down or risk seriously harming relations within the coalition.

Yesterday, the League of Expellees backed Ms Steinbach for the job and she called a news conference in Frankfurt, pressing the government to support her too. "The coalition needs to sit down and decide what it wants," she said.

Ms Merkel's cabinet began a two-day meeting north of Berlin yesterday to resolve divisive policy issues and the museum nomination now threatens to overshadow the gathering.

The chancellor has so far avoided taking sides on the sensitive issue.

news.scotsman.com, Edinburgh
, 18. Nov 2009,

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