Merkel gains support as Schroeder urges 'coup'

Angela Merkel was re-elected leader of her parliamentary group Tuesday, receiving the support of 98.6 per cent of Christian Democrat (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) members, party sources said.

The level of support is above what German conservative leader Merkel received in past years. She was elected head of the CDU/CSU Bundestag group in 2002 with 92.2 per cent support and again in 2003 with a 93.72 per cent score.

Wounded by her failure to get a clear majority in stalemated weekend elections, Merkel fought Tuesday to keep alive party support for her ambition to be Germany's first woman chancellor.

Unable to form a government with her preferred partners the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel faces weeks of tough coalition negotiations with the leaders of other major parties.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reportedly urged a coup against his opponent, offering to drop out of the running to rule Germany but only if Merkel did the same.

"There has never been a chancellor who has sacrificed himself in order to clear the way to form a government. Schroeder would go down in the party's history as one of the greats," an unnamed leading member of Schroeder's Social Democratic Party told the top-selling Bild newspaper, reports People’s Daily.

According to one opinion poll, a third of Germans favoured a grand coalition, with 50 per cent wanting Mr Schroeder as leader and 43 per cent Mrs Merkel. A quarter called for more elections.

SPD insiders said yesterday that Mr Schroeder could step down if Mrs Merkel agreed to relinquish her dream of becoming the country's first woman chancellor.

"There has never been a chancellor who chose to sacrifice himself in order to free the way for the formation of a government," said a leading member of the SPD. "Schrцder would go down in party history as a great figure."

Mr Schroeder, chancellor since 1998, called Sunday's early elections to secure a new mandate for his reform programme to tackle Germany's economic problems.

Mrs Merkel's position was strengthened yesterday when she was overwhelmingly re elected as leader of the CDU parliamentary group. "This is proof of the trust in me," she said, informs Telegraph.

Photo: the AP

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