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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Schroeder clings to power
Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder faces a "sea of troubles"
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Red-Green coalition has won the German general elections with a razor-thin majority, after a night of drama which earlier saw his conservative opponent claiming victory.

Preliminary official results give Mr Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens 47.1% of the vote - 306 seats in the parliament or Bundestag.

The conservative opposition of CDU/CSU led by Edmund Stoiber in alliance with the liberal Free Democrats won 45.9%, securing 295 seats.

With former Communists taking two seats, that would give Mr Schroeder an overall majority of nine in the new parliament from 21 in the last election.

Analysts say this may make the chancellor's pledges to reform the world's third largest economy more difficult to carry out.

In a first hint of things to come, Mr Stoiber has said the new government would be so weak, he aims to topple it within a year.

Schroeder's vulnerability

Mr Schroeder and Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer made a triumphant appearance in front of the Social Democrat (SPD) faithful as results began to indicate the team had secured a new four-year term.

Edmund Stoiber
Initially Stoiber thought he had won

"We have hard times in front of us and we're going to make it together," Mr Schroeder said.

The chancellor acknowledged that his party's loss of voter support compared with 1998 - 38.5% now, 40.9% of the vote then - was "very painful".

The Greens had their best-ever showing - increasing their share to 8.6% - up 1.9% from the last election - in what correspondents describe as a power shift in their favour in the new coalition cabinet.

However, Mr Fischer has promised to be modest in pushing for his party demands, not wanting to embarrass the chancellor, the BBC's Rob Broomby says.

Just hours earlier, Mr Stoiber had claimed victory for his CDU/CSU alliance, with a large leap forward from 1998's devastating defeat.

Chart showing preliminary results in percentage terms
SPD Social Democratic Party
CDU/CSU Christian Democratic Party / Christian Social Union
FDP Free Democratic Party (Liberals)
Greens Green Party
PDS Party of Democratic Socialism

He returned to his home region of Bavaria to be given a hero's welcome and to warn Mr Schroeder that his term would not be easy.

"The Schroeder government will only be able to govern for a very, very short time," Mr Stoiber told the party faithful in Munich.

"With this Red-Green coalition Germany won't return to economic health and it won't break out of the isolation from Europe and America that Schroeder drove it into."

But SPD spokesmen dismissed the threat.

"In three weeks the government will be stable," Social Democrat General Secretary Franz Muentefering told German radio.

European affairs analyst William Horsley says the chancellor may face a sea of troubles - a relationship with America scarred by his campaign rhetoric against United States policy on Iraq, trouble with Germany's European partners and an economy in urgent need of resuscitation.

But at least on Iraq, he stood by his opposition to any American-led military action against Iraq in remarks to journalists on Monday.

In acknowledgement of the offence caused in the White House by his campaign rhetoric, and the remarks of his Minister of Justice, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin comparing President George W Bush's foreign policy to Hitler's, Mr Schroeder said he would present Germany's stance without personal animosity.

The minister herself is widely expected to offer her resignation soon, our analyst says.

FDP dismay

Of other smaller parties contesting the German poll, the FDP did worse than expected. FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said it was a "disappointing" election.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Fischer's Greens had their best result ever
The party is thought to have suffered when, in the final days of the campaign, deputy leader Juergen Moellemann attacked the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, prompting accusations of anti-Semitism.

Even before the polls closed, the party leadership asked for Mr Moellemann's resignation.

Mr Stoiber said were it not for the FDP's result, his party might easily have formed a government.

The turnout was 79.1%, and the results will not be considered final until they are certified in about two weeks' time.

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"It was a political cliffhanger"
Heinz Schulte, German political analyst
"It was a thriller - we were on a knife edge"
Gerhard Schroeder

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17 Sep 02 | Europe
08 Sep 02 | Europe
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