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1132Schroeder ready to step down to make way for Merkel

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  • Greg Cannon
    Oct 3, 2005
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      Schroeder ready to step down to make way for Merkel

      3 October 2005

      BERLIN - Ending two weeks of post-election deadlock,
      German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday
      signalled a willingness to step down to make way for
      "a stable government", a move widely seen as paving
      the way for a woman to become chancellor for the first
      time in German history.

      After a key post-election vote in Dresden bolstering
      his conservative challenger Angela Merkel on Sunday,
      Schroeder said in a television interview that he would
      not "stand in the way" of a resolution of the
      stalemate created by the indecisive September 18
      general election.

      "This is not about my claims nor about me personally,"
      he said in backing off from his election night claim
      that he would remain chancellor, come what might.

      "It is about the claim of leadership of the Social
      Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)," the chancellor
      told RTL Television.

      "And that is a matter to be decided by the party
      leadership," he added.

      "I shall accept any decision," he concluded, saying he
      did not want to stand in the way of a stable

      While Schroeder hinted that he still believed his
      Social Democrats should lead a grand coalition,
      political analysts were quick to point out that no one
      in his party has the charisma or influence to step
      into Schroeder's shoes.

      Schroeder's remarks, coinciding with festivities
      marking the 15th anniversary of German unification,
      came amid mounting public pressure for a resolution of
      the deadlock and with opinion surveys showing only 18
      per cent of Germans agreed with him that he should
      stay on as chancellor.

      On election night, he had vowed to stay on as
      chancellor, bolstered by voter returns showing the SPD
      at 34 per cent, just one point behind the CDU/CSU at
      35 per cent.

      Since then he has proposed a variety of scenarios,
      including sharing the chancellorship with Merkel on a
      rotating basis. He has also suggested that he would
      withdraw his claim to the chancellorship if Merkel
      likewise did so.

      His final change of heart came after Merkel's
      Christian Democrats expanded their lead over Schroeder
      by an additional seat in balloting on Sunday in
      precincts of Dresden where the September 18 voting had
      been postponed owing to the death of a ballot

      Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) won 37 per cent of
      the vote in Dresden while Schroeder's SPD got almost
      33 per cent.

      The Dresden results mean Angela Merkel's Christian
      Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) now has 226 seats in the
      German parliament's lower house, the Bundestag,
      compared with 222 seats for Schroeder's Social
      Democrats, (SPD) which were won by his party when the
      regular election was held on September 18.

      Voting for about 219,000 people in half of Dresden had
      to be postponed because one of the candidates on the
      ballot, a far-right member of the National Democratic
      Party of Germany (NPD), died before election day. The
      NPD was soundly defeated and won just over 2 per cent
      on Sunday.

      Merkel and Schroeder have been forced into holding
      talks on forming a grand coalition between their two
      parties, the long-time main rivals of German politics.

      Analysts were predicting the negotiations could drag
      on well into November. Leading economists warned that
      such a protracted stalemate could stifle any
      rekindling of German economic recovery.

      Schroeder's remarks on Monday now dramatically speed
      up that process. SPD officials immediately huddled
      Monday evening to discuss his statement and to plan a
      strategy for this week's talks with the CDU/CSU.

      Schroeder's outgoing SPD alliance with the Greens
      failed to win a majority, but Merkel's designated
      CDU/CSU marriage with the pro- business Free Democrats
      also fell short.

      Talks between the SPD and the CDU/CSU on a possible
      grand coalition will resume Wednesday in Berlin.

      Schroeder's remarks capped a day of speeches,
      fireworks, street fairs marking the 15th anniversary
      of German unification.

      German President Horst Koehler, in a Unity Day speech,
      noted that the divisions between East and West Germany
      have been more stubborn to heal than originally had
      been predicted in the heady days when the Berlin Wall
      came down.

      "We are coming to the realisation that some parts of
      our nation will always be more disadvantaged than
      other regions," he said. "We are coming to the
      realisation that not every region can be a model of
      prosperity and happiness, even while we strive to
      achieve prosperity and happiness for all."

      Potsdam was the focus of this year's official
      celebrations, which have been held in a different city
      each year since the two Germanys were united at the
      stroke of midnight on October 3, 1990.

      A huge street fair and a spectacular fireworks display
      highlighted the Potsdam festivities, which drew
      hundreds of thousands.

      Stirring speeches and classical music concerts were
      the order of the day for dignitaries, meanwhile, as
      former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl received the
      prestigious Quadriga Award for achievement from former
      Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

      Other recipients included Afghanistan's leader Hamid
      Karzai, Prince Karim Aga Khan and Tim Berners-Lee,
      creator of the World Wide Web.
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