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Schroeder appeal over troops move

BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been trying to overcome wavering support for his decision to offer military support to the United States amid opposition from some politicians.

About 15 members of the traditionally pacifist Green party have said they may vote against the move, putting Schroeder's 16-seat majority at risk.

The chancellor told politicians on Thursday that it was now time for Germans to repay the solidarity the U.S. had given the country since WWII and throughout the Cold War.

Schroeder made the historic offer on Wednesday to send up to 3,900 troops to fight in the war against terror in Afghanistan.

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The offer includes help in combating nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; medical services; special forces; air transport, and naval forces to protect shipping lanes.

The main opposition parties, the conservative Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats, have said they would support a German contribution.

But Schroeder has had to allay fears within the Greens, his junior coalition party, and among the public about the possibility of German troops being used in ground attacks.

Several prominent members of the Greens have called for a halt to the U.S. bombing raids on Afghanistan.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, a member of the Greens, threatened to resign in a debate with the party's 47 deputies on Wednesday night.

He warned them that opposing the mission could bring down the government, members present at the meeting told Reuters.

Two of Schroeder's own Social Democrats deputies have said they will oppose the mobilisation, and more might follow suit, said Wilhelm Schmidt, SPD parliamentary business manager.

The last time such a similar crisis occurred was when the Greens reluctantly followed Schroeder's line on military support in Kosovo.

Opinion polls show that between 51 percent and 56 percent of Germans back military support for the U.S.-led war, but a majority are against sending ground troops in.

The chancellor told parliament Washington had not asked for German troops to be used in ground assaults and that it had also not asked for the use of German air forces.

He said the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not just a strike against the United States, but also Germany and the world.

He added, the "cold-blooded terrorists" had carried out "these barbaric attacks (which) claimed thousands of innocent lives."

"I can understand when many individuals, in view of the horror of the images that one cannot look at daily, tend toward denial," Schroeder said.

"But that cannot be the guiding principle for political decisions."

While military forces are not the only option being pursued, it has to be persevered with, Schroeder said.

"Curbing international terrorism demands great efforts and staying course for the long haul," Schroeder told parliament.

"We have a common interest to bring the military operation to a speedy and successful conclusion. I am certain that this success is not only necessary, but achievable."

Fischer backed Schroeder's stance. He told parliament during the debate on Thursday: "You can discuss a lot -- even criticise a lot, for all I care -- about the strategy pursued by the United States.

"But the core question is whether we want to leave the United States, our ally that is responding to this attack, standing alone."

Refusing to help would be a "fatal mistake" that would hurt NATO and Germany's relations with Washington, he said.

Participation in military action is a sensitive issue in Germany, which, mindful of the crimes of the Nazis, requires parliamentary approval of any deployment of troops outside the NATO area.

The debate is expected to last several days with parliament voting next week. Observers say that with the support of the main opposition parties, Schroeder's arguments should carry the day.

No timescale has been set for when the troops would be deployed. It could take up to three weeks to get the troops ready after a decision to go has been made.


• German Federal Government

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