BONN, AUG. 7 -- West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his major campaign opponent today stepped up their political bickering but left unsettled the contentious issue of the timetable for German unification unsettled.
In a frosty meeting at Kohl's office, the chancellor and Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine agreed that the best way to resolve East Germany's deepening economic crisis is for the two countries to merge quickly. But the two sides remained sharply divided over the ruling Christian Democrats' insistence that unification and the first all-German elections be simultaneous.
The harmony was no greater today in East Berlin, where the same two parties accused one another of not knowing how they want the unity process to unfold.
The East German parliament meets in special session Wednesday to consider two proposals to move up the scheduled Dec. 2 merger of the two countries. The Social Democrats will propose that East Germany become part of West Germany on Sept. 15; the small, right-wing German Social Union will suggest immediate unification.
The Christian Democrats, led by Kohl in the West and Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere in the East, want to unify the countries and hold elections Oct. 14. But the West German constitution prohibits any election before mid-November, and Kohl needs a two-thirds majority to change the law. The Social Democrats, the largest opposition party in the West and the junior partner in de Maiziere's coalition in the East, said they will not provide the votes to change the constitution.
Kohl, Lafontaine and a host of other politicians who hurried back to Bonn from vacation spots traded insults and accusations, most of them centering on charges that the other side is using economic problems in the East to seek an advantage in the fall elections.
Kohl said Lafontaine's plan for early unification and December elections would force East Germans to be governed from Bonn without any elected representative of their own. Lafontaine said Kohl's plan is meant solely to get himself reelected before Germans realize the true costs of unification.
The challenger agreed that soaring unemployment and collapsing industries in East Germany require quick attention, but he said that holding early elections would do nothing to help struggling East Germans.
The number of unemployed East Germans jumped by 90 percent in July, the country's economics ministry said. About 272,000 people are unemployed and 847,000 more are enrolled in a government work-subsidy program. The East German unemployment rate is now 3.1 percent, well under West Germany's 7 percent, but still a shock to East Germans who grew up in a society with guaranteed training and jobs.