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Merkel, Schroeder both claim election victory
Updated: 2005-09-19 06:50


"We are the strongest party and have responsibility for forming the next government," said Merkel, the pastor's daughter from the former communist East Germany, who may yet become Germany's first woman chancellor.

But a beaming Schroeder told cheering SPD members: "There will be no coalition under her leadership with my Social Democrats ...

"I don't understand, and I am certain the people of Germany also don't understand, how the conservatives can claim a mandate to lead from such a disastrous result ..."

A provisional official result was not likely to be published until after midnight local time (2200 GMT). If it remains tight, Germans may have to wait weeks to know the shape of their next government.

Voting in one district in the eastern city of Dresden has been delayed until October 2 because of the death of a candidate and that by-election could now be decisive.

Whatever constellation results, the vote appears to be a blow to those who had been seeking a clear shift after seven years of "Red-Green" government under Schroeder.

German growth is now the slowest in the 25-nation European Union, unemployment went above the 5-million mark earlier this year for the first time in the post-war era, and the deficit is set to breach EU limits for the fourth straight year.

Merkel had argued that Germany should accelerate reforms that Schroeder introduced.

She vowed to cut bureaucracy, ease rules on firing and cut payroll costs to reinvigorate Germany's economy -- a path that some experts thought other countries in Europe might follow if she was successful.
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