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Votes test Schroeder's standing

The German chancellor's home state is voting on Sunday
The German chancellor's home state is voting on Sunday

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BERLIN, Germany -- Elections in two key German states are being seen as the first real test of popular support of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's four-month-old government.

Ten million voters in Hesse and Lower Saxony are preparing to go to the polls on Sunday.

Schroeder has ruled out resigning if the Social Democrats (SPD) are routed, as predicted.

But Lower Saxony is his home state and defeat will add to the pressure on his re-elected but already besieged government.

Analysts say a defeat could also speed up reforms to Germany's heavily regulated labour market and costly social insurance system.

Schroeder's government has been undermined by mass unemployment, unpopular tax increases and a lack of convincing economic reforms.

The Forsa institute polls published on Friday confirmed forecasts that the SPD will lose power in Lower Saxony and fail to topple the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in Hesse.

In Lower Saxony, Forsa put the SPD at 33 percent, with the CDU at 48 percent.

In Hesse, the poll placed the SPD at 29 percent against the CDU's 49 percent.

The findings are in line with other recent polls suggesting a rout for the SPD and show that not even Schroeder's vocal opposition to a U.S.-led war on Iraq will appease voters.

Schroeder's opposition to military action is popular in Germany and helped him win re-election in September.

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