A prominent member of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) triggered calls for his resignation from the party after warning voters about the risks of supporting the SPD in a finely-balanced state election next weekend.
Wolfgang Clement, German economy and labour minister under ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said a vote for the SPD in Hesse next Sunday would mean backing energy policies that damaged not just the western state but the whole country.
The Hesse election has stirred up German public opinion since the incumbent Christian Democrat (CDU) premier Roland Koch chose to target crimes committed by foreigners in the campaign.
Having backed Koch - whom critics accuse of striking up a neo-Nazi tone - analysts say Chancellor Angela Merkel risks suffering nationally if her CDU is punished by voters in Hesse. Just a few months ago, Koch was expected to secure re-election as premier with ease. However, latest polls show he and SPD candidate Andrea Ypsilanti are running neck-and-neck.
In a column for Sunday's conservative weekly Welt am Sonntag, Clement said voters in Hesse needed to think hard about Ypsilanti's opposition to nuclear power and coal-fired plants.
"Whoever wants it the way she does must know: this can only be achieved to the detriment of Hesse's industrial substance ... and that of Germany," he wrote, adding voters should "therefore choose and consider carefully" who they wanted to run Hesse.
Ypsilanti's office hit back, saying Clement, a former SPD deputy leader and ex-premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, had become a tool of the power industry.
In 2006, shortly after leaving the federal government, Clement joined the supervisory board of RWE Power AG, a unit of one of Germany's biggest utilities, the Essen-based RWE.
"Clement has unmasked himself as a lobbyist for industry," Ypsilanti's spokesman Frank Steibli said.
SPD leaders in Hesse urged Clement to quit the party, while Peter Struck, leader of the SPD in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, said he should be kicked out.
"Whoever urges people not to vote SPD should face exclusion from the party," he was quoted as saying at an election rally in Bad Homburg by the online version of Der Spiegel magazine. (Reuters)