Merkel celebrates winning seat in German election and treads on Schroeder

Angela Merkel's conservatives on Monday pressed German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to back off his insistence on heading a new government after they gained an extra parliamentary seat in the last voting of Germany's election.

Sunday's vote in Dresden, which was delayed from Sept. 18 because of a candidate's death, concluded the national election. It widened the advantage Merkel's conservatives hold over Schroeder's Social Democrats, or SPD, to four seats from three.

That raised conservatives' hopes that Schroeder might soon back off his claim to remain as chancellor in a new governing coalition with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. Merkel insists she should lead the country.

"This is a very good result for the CDU," Merkel, who was attending a ceremony marking the anniversary of German reunification, told reporters Monday in Potsdam, outside Berlin.

"I am now counting on the sensible forces in the SPD so that things take a sensible course," she added.

Merkel's conservatives insist that Schroeder's party recognize the conservatives' right to the chancellery, as the stronger force in parliament, before the two sides can embark on formal talks on a so-called "grand coalition" of Germany's two biggest parties.

"I think Oct. 3 would be a good date for Mr. Schroeder to say: `I recognize democratic customs,"' said Guenther Beckstein, who was the security policy spokesman in Merkel's campaign team.

The two sides have held two rounds of exploratory talks on an alliance, and are to hold a third round Wednesday.

The Social Democrats have argued in recent days that issues should take precedence over the leadership question.

With final results in, they have 222 seats in the new German parliament. Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, have 226 seats, the AP reports.

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