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Germany: Media Reflect Little Change In Antiwar Sentiment

Munich, 28 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- There is little indication in Germany of a change of heart by the public or the media over the Iraq war. Opinion polls say more than 80 percent of people oppose the war -- up from 70 percent before the conflict started. The polls also indicate that German hostility is directed against the war -- not against the U.S. or Americans in general.

The war is heavily covered in the German press and by major television stations. They cover events on the battlefield from U.S. and British television correspondents. TV also makes extensive use of the Arabic-language television station Al-Jazeera, including video footage of civilian casualties.

The major TV stations have correspondents in Baghdad who report live from the Iraqi capital several times a day, even during bombing raids. Their reports also comment on civilian casualties of the bombing.

Analysts say footage of civilian casualties contributes greatly to continuing criticism of the war. There are frequent reminders that the U.S. expects a war with minimal civilian casualties.

Most German newspapers cover the war news in a straightforward manner, although the mass circulation dailies sometimes use startling headlines. One Munich newspaper this week carried a photograph of a dead woman killed in Baghdad. The banner headline above the photograph read: "To Which God Do You Pray, Mr. Bush?"

Several daily newspapers say it is impossible to give a full picture of the war because of censorship and other problems. They warn readers that reports received by the media may be false or misleading. Munich's leading newspaper, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," carries a warning each day that in wartime those providing journalists with information are often pursuing their own interests.

In one such warning this week, the paper reminded readers of an incident which occurred in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait. It said the international media was given a story that Iraqi soldiers had taken 300 babies from their cribs and killed them. The paper said it was later found that the story was a lie invented by a U.S. advertising agency and financed by Kuwaitis.

Another leading newspaper, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," is generally less critical of the war and the way it has been conducted. This newspaper is more concerned about the damage done to the relationship between the United States and its European allies, Germany and France. It carries frequent editorials urging stronger efforts to rebuild a friendly and cooperative relationship.

Politically, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has the support of his coalition of Social Democrats and Greens in his refusal to participate in the war.

But the opposition Christian Democratic party is struggling to heal cracks in its own leadership over the war. The CDU leader, Angela Merkel, has frequently declared her full support for the United States and says the situation had reached a point where war with Iraq was "unavoidable." The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," which is close to the Christian Democrats, today expresses respect for her taking a stand.

Other leaders of the Christian Democratic party take a different position. Senior party officials, such as the premier of the Saarland, Peter Mueller, and the former president of the national parliament (Bundestag), Rita Suessmuth, have declared themselves against the war.

The deputy leader of the party in the national parliament, Friedrich Merz, has also expressed doubts about unqualified support for the U.S. stand on Iraq. A front-page story in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quotes Merz as saying the Bush administration has a "bunker mentality." He criticized what he considers Washington's inclination to act on its own without the support of its allies.