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Coalition bickers over euro crisis

Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition is squabbling so much over the eurozone debt crisis that even the opposition is urging her to quash the infighting - raising new questions about whether Germany's government might collapse before its term ends.

A new poll underlined the government's woes, showing support for the main opposition party at its highest in three and a half years and dismal ratings for Ms Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party.

Chancellor Ms Merkel's coalition, which took power in 2009, has become notorious for infighting, particularly over the Free Democrats' demands for tax cuts, which hit resistance from Ms Merkel's conservatives and helped push down the party's support.

The coalition has also performed badly in several state elections this year and the Free Democrats are struggling to avoid being ejected from a fifth regional legislature in Berlin this weekend.

That appears to have prompted a new outbreak of hardline rhetoric on the European debt crisis by the pro-business Free Democrats.

This week, the Free Democrats leader, vice chancellor Philipp Roesler, talked openly about the possibility of an "orderly insolvency" for Greece - a first for a government minister. The comments unsettled already jittery markets and prompted a clearly-annoyed Ms Merkel to dismiss the idea and demand that "everyone should weigh their words very carefully".

But the vice chancellor hit back, saying there could be "no bans on thinking".

Germany's next national election is not due until 2013, but the ferocity of the clash prompted new media and opposition speculation that a vote might come earlier.

A poll by the Forsa agency for Stern magazine showed support for the Social Democrats up two points from a week earlier to 29% - their highest level since February 2008. The Greens, their traditional allies, were steady at 19%. That would be enough to give the two parties a parliamentary majority. The third opposition party, the hard-left Left Party, polled 9%. Support for Ms Merkel's Union bloc was down a point at 31% - a little below where it was in Germany's 2009 election. The FDP was stuck at just 4%, not enough to win seats in the national parliament.

The poll of 2,500 people, conducted from September 5-9, gave a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 points.

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