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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Schroeder team in coalition talks
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

Franz Muentefering
Mr Muentefering met Greens as he seeks to keep the coalition in power
Talks to form Germany's next government have started with a meeting between Chancellor Schroeder's Social Democrats and coalition partners, the Greens.

Neither Mr Schroeder nor Angela Merkel's opposition managed to win an overall majority in Sunday's election.

Discussions to form a coalition either with each other or with the Greens and liberals are taking place in Berlin.

But Social Democrat leader Franz Muentefering has told reporters there was "no hurry".

Mr Muentefering said this first meeting with leaders of the Greens was focused on how to keep the current ruling coalition, led by his party colleague, Mr Schroeder, in power.

The idea is to make an offer to the liberals to join the government, giving it a majority in the Bundestag.

Slow poker

The Greens, however, have voiced scepticism about the plan and the liberals have so far refused even to talk about it.

On Thursday, Mr Schroeder will talk directly with his challenger, Christian Democrat leader Mrs Merkel, about forming a coalition with her party.

The problem here is that both leaders want to be chancellor.

And on Friday, Mrs Merkel will meet the Greens to discuss bringing them into an alliance with her party and the liberals - once again, a combination that the Greens say they find unrealistic.

Clearly, this is going to be a slow, considered game of political poker.

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