SPD leader and top candidate for the German elections in September Martin Schulz speaks during a meeting of Germany's Social Democratic Party in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, June 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Merkel challenger calls Trump 'will-o-the-wisp' president

June 25, 2017 - 10:53 am

BERLIN (AP) — Martin Schulz, the center-left challenger running against Chancellor Angela Merkel, vowed Sunday to get his Social Democratic party into power despite weak poll numbers ahead of Germany's national election in September.

Schulz focused on social justice in his campaign speech at a party congress in Dortmund, but also delivered some harsh attacks against incumbent Merkel.

The former European Parliament president accused Merkel of avoiding political debates in the election campaign, behavior that he described as an "arrogance of power."

He also sharply condemned Germany's nationalist AfD party, lobbied for better integration of immigrants and promised that his Social Democrats would not sign coalition deals with other parties unless they support legalizing same-sex marriages in the country.

Internationally, Schulz called U.S. President Donald Trump a "will-o-the-wisp president" and demanded that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately release all jailed journalists in the country, remarks for which he received standing ovations and long applause.

Some 6,000 delegates applauded frenetically at the end of the pugnacious speech, chanting, "Martin, Martin."

Despite Schulz' energetic performance, polls currently give Merkel's conservatives a double-digit national lead and show the Social Democrats sagging following a surge earlier this year. Both parties hope to escape the "grand coalition" in which they now govern Germany together.

The Emnid Sunday poll for Bild newspaper showed support for Merkel's bloc unchanged at 39 percent, while the SPD support dropped one percentage point to 24 percent. The SPD got a boost after nominating Schulz in January, but slipped recently after several state election losses.

Former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who also attended the congress, tried to cheer up the delegates by saying that the election had not yet been decided and there's still "a lot of time to turn around the mood."

Later on Sunday, party representatives unanimously approved a platform that includes proposals to impose higher taxes on the rich and to abolish any kind of kindergarten fees.

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