BOCHUM, Germany - The leader of Germany's Pirates, whose shock success in four state elections thrust it onto the political stage, apologized on Saturday for the fierce infighting that has contributed to a plunge in popularity and called for unity.
The Pirates have seen support drop from 13 percent six months ago to under 5 percent now, the threshold needed for it to enter parliament at next year's federal election.
A strong showing at the election could split the leftist vote and help secure victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
"It is time for us to realize we want to do politics together, without insulting, disrespecting or ignoring one another," Pirate leader Bernd Schloemer told the nearly 2000 party members on Saturday at a two-day conference in the western, industrial German city of Bochum. "I too have made errors and I would like to apologize for them to you," Schloemer told members bedecked in orange, its trademark color, and hunched over their laptops.
The Pirates took their name after being accused of downloading copyrighted information and material from the Internet. They believe all the world's knowledge should be available to everyone.
But what started out as a campaign group caught other parties by surprise in September last year by gaining nearly 9 percent of the vote for Berlin's city assembly. Since then, it has also won more than 5 percent of the vote and seats in the state assemblies of Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia.