STUTTGART, Germany - Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was to speak to a congress of his Greens party Saturday as the junior coalition partners seek to close ranks over such divisive issues as the US bombing of Iraq and transport of nuclear waste in Germany.
Environment Minister Juergen Trittin was also to speak to party faithful in the western city of Stuttgart to defend his support for the waste convoys and to argue against the backing of violent anti-transport demonstrations.
The convoys are part of the agreement the Greens won for Germany to move towards abandoning the use of nuclear power.
Fischer, the former street radical who now wears three-piece suits and is one of the world's leading diplomats, will be defending to the pacifist Greens his backing of the US bombing of Iraq.
Newly elected co-leader Claudia Roth, left, an outspoken human rights activist, and leader Fritz Kuhn wave to a cheering crowd of delegates after the vote for a new leading pair at the Green Party's three-day convention at the fair grounds in Stuttgart, Germany, Friday, March 9, 2001. (AP Photo/Diether Endlicher)
Greens leaders have supported him on the issue, but the party's rank-and-file was in an uproar after a recent visit by Fischer to Washington where he said he favored the US action.
Fischer, a founding member of the Greens and still its unofficial chief, has urged his party repeatedly since it joined the government for the first time in 1998 to accept that it is no longer an outsider, protest grouping.
In 1999, he led the Greens in backing Germany's first offensive military action since World War II, saying the ecologists as a government party had to approve German fighter-bombers proving their mettle as good NATO allies by joining in attacks on Yugoslavia.
On Friday, the first day of the three-day congress, the Greens elected leftist Claudia Roth as co-president to replace agriculture minister Renate Kuenast, who had to step down as party leaders cannot hold positions in government or parliament.
Roth, who ran unopposed to replace Kuenast, said: "It is necessary ... to convince the Americans that their new rocket program NMD (national missile defense) means not more security but more confrontation and contradicts international arms control."
She also criticized "American bombardments in Iraq which are no way of overcoming a dictator like (Saddam) Hussein, quite the opposite," putting herself in direct opposition to Fischer.
In addition, she said the Greens had a right to march in protest against nuclear waste shipments, even if they should avoid the sort of confrontations that have marked such actions in the past.
Still, Roth, 45 and a former manager of an anarchist rock band, pledged in her speech to be a unifier alongside her more centrist co-president Fritz Kuhn, rather than a spokesman for the hardline left of the party.
The congress comes as the Greens head into two key state elections, hoping Kuenast's success in promoting environment-friendly policies in the wake of the mad cow crisis can help revive their fading popularity ahead of two key state polls.
Roth's fellow co-president Fritz Kuhn told the 750 delegates in the western city of Stuttgart that Kuenast's agricultural policies were "ever green, something for which we have fought for 20 years and (yet) it is totally modern."
With Kuenast's star currently high in both government and opinion polls, the Greens are hoping at the congresss to close ranks over issues that have divided them and torpedoed their popularity, such as challenging the United States in foreign policy and violently opposing nuclear transport shipments in Germany.
Roth was the leader of protests when Fischer convinced the pacifist party to back German participation in the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
The Greens have plummeted in popularity since the last general elections in 1998 and are keenly aware of the need to revive their fortunes.
The next key step for them is to do well in two ballots March 25 in the western states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, of which Stuttgart is the capital, and in Rhineland-Palatinate to elect regional parliaments. Parties have also begun looking to the next national elections, in 2002.
Political General Manager Reinhard Buetikofer said in opening the three-day congress that the "Greens have a new consciousness of themselves, since almost a year," referring to realism and moderation in their positions.
Kuenast, for instance, has pledged since taking over the agriculture ministry in January to increase organic farming to some 20 percent of German production from its current 2.4 percent.
But she, like Fischer with his dream of a European federation, has pledged to move in a careful way that works with reigning power centers rather than defies them.
But there remains tension in the Greens between their often radical stands and the more centrist policies of Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Trittin has urged his party not to take part in violent protests against nuclear transport convoys, since these transports are part of agreements he made in return for having Germany abandon the use of nuclear energy.
Another dispute is over so-called ecologist taxes on fuel, which the Greens want to increase beyond a cut-off date for rises of 2003, something Schroeder rejects as being against his policy of reducing taxes.
The Greens are also to propose in Stuttgart a radical overhaul of the country's tax system, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported in Munich Friday.
Copyright © 2000 AFP