Germans doubt Merkel's vow on saving deposits - poll

BERLIN (Reuters) - A majority of Germans doubt Chancellor Angela Merkel's guarantee that their savings accounts are safe, an opinion poll published by Stern magazine and RTL TV showed on Tuesday, six months before the federal election.

In a country highly sensitive to fears of having savings wiped out, the poll found that 54 percent of Germans are now concerned about their deposits and only 41 percent believe Merkel's guarantee that their holdings are safe.

The poll of 2,504 eligible voters was taken from March 18 to March 22, soon after Cyprus reached an initial bailout deal - that its parliament then overwhelmingly rejected - in which it would have imposed a levy on all bank depositors.

Cyprus and its international lenders have since agreed on a bailout plan that includes forcing only wealthier depositors to contribute, but the mere prospect of ordinary depositors being hit too in an emergency has alarmed many.

"The chancellor has so far reigned supreme in the euro zone crisis," Stern wrote. "Now her reputation as the 'Iron Chancellor' is suffering for the first time - 54 percent don't trust her promise anymore that their savings deposits are safe."

Germans tend to react strongly to any signs that their savings might be at risk. Many Germans lost much of their savings after World War Two in a 1948 currency reform, and they also saw their savings wiped out by hyper-inflation in the early 1920s.

These lessons from history partly explain why the government has long taken such a firm stance on euro zone austerity measures.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert tried to allay these fears at a government news conference on March 18, reiterating a famous joint vow Merkel made with then-Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in 2008 that all savings deposits in Germany were safe.

While ordinary Germans may be worried about their bank deposits, the Stern poll also showed support for Merkel's conservatives nevertheless rose one percentage point in the last week. The party would win 41 percent of the vote if the election were held now, while their Free Democrat coalition partners would garner one point less at 5 percent, the poll showed.

Neither the ruling centre-right nor the centre-left opposition would win a majority, the poll found. Support for the Social Democrats was steady at 24 points while the Greens fell one point to 14 percent. The Left rose one point to 8 percent.

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Hugh Lawson)