German conservatives expect Schroeder to yield

German conservatives expect Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to step down for Angela Merkel in their stand-off over who will head a new government, but a final deal will not come before Sunday, party leaders said on Thursday.

Merkel's conservatives and Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) are inching towards forming a coalition after neither won a majority with their preferred allies in a September 18 election.

But they have been unable to agree until now on who should be chancellor. Schroeder has refused to concede defeat, even though the conservatives won four more seats in parliament.

Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Merkel, her Bavarian ally Edmund Stoiber, head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Schroeder and Social Democrat (SPD) chief Franz Muentefering are due to meet from 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Thursday to try to settle the issue. But Merkel, 51, cautioned that a deal would not be reached until the weekend, with more talks planned before Sunday.

"I have informed (the party executive) there will be further decisions made in the leadership talks and also said there will probably not be decisions from these talks before Sunday evening," she told reporters after a meeting of CDU leaders, reports Reuters.

According to Guardian, one political expert said, on Thursday, crisis that has gripped Germany since the indecisive election almost three weeks ago wasn't over - despite days of speculation that a denouement was near.

"I don't expect a swift result," Nils Diederich, a professor of political science at Berlin's Free University, told the Guardian. "If the SPD voted for Merkel this would be tantamount to the party shooting itself in the foot. Some 4%-5% of the SPD's core voters would desert it. They would join the Left party instead. It is going to be extremely difficult for the SPD's leadership to sell Mrs Merkel to its own supporters."

More likely, Prof Diederich said, would be a solution that saw Mr Schrцder and Mrs Merkel disappear - to make way for fresh leaders. It was also possible that Germany could be staggering towards a minority government or new elections.

The discussions last night took place between Mr Schrцder and Mr Mьntefering and Mrs Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, the leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

The executives of the rival parties will hold further meetings on Monday. They will have to decide whether to enter formal coalition negotiations. Yesterday Mrs Merkel said a grand coalition - an experiment last tried in Germany in the 1960s with mixed results - would "not be the lowest common denominator". It would be a "coalition of new possibilities", she said.


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