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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Ends Kohl's 16-Year Rule




BONN, Germany -- Gerhard Schroder toppled veteran conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Germany's elections and vowed Monday to build a coalition with the Greens, a party that wants to wind down NATO and legalize marijuana.


But Schroder said he expected the small environmentalist party, which has never been in government, to be a serious partner.


At his first post-election news conference, Schroder offered reassurances to his country and the world that his government would continue the stability Kohl, the West's longest-serving leader, secured during his four terms.


"Nobody needs to be afraid. We will ensure continuity in foreign policy," Schroder said. "The international community can rely on Germans to remain good partners."


Schroder's center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD, broke Kohl's Christian Democrats' 16-year grip on power with a sweeping 41 percent victory in Sunday's elections.


He said the 21-seat majority the SPD and Greens will have in the 669-seat parliament was wider than he had expected, and should prove sufficient.


Negotiations on forming a coalition are to begin Friday, and Schr?der said he was confident "a rational program" would be possible with the Greens.


Schroder handed the Christian Democrats their worst defeat since 1949. But he kept open the option of a grand coalition with the CDU should talks with the often-fractious ecologists collapse. Kohl has said he would not serve in a coalition.


Financial markets, which favored a grand coalition, took the news of a so-called Red-Green alliance in their stride.


One of the first tests of the new government could be German participation in proposed NATO strikes to quell bloodshed in the Serb-led Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Schroder skirted that issue by saying Kohl technically was still in power.


Schroder refused to discuss portfolios but he repeated that the Greens leader could be foreign minister.


"It is not the first time that I have said that I could imagine Joschka Fischer in that office," Schroder said.


The Greens manifesto calls for the legalization of soft drugs and the scaling down of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Amid a public outcry, the party backed away from an earlier call to triple fuel prices over 10 years as part of an ecology-friendly tax system.


Several party leaders have distanced themselves from the so-called fundamentalist base as the prospect of power loomed.


Eager to enter government for the first time, the Greens emphasized ideas the parties share: combating unemployment, scrapping nuclear energy and giving longtime foreign residents of Germany dual nationality.


But even when the parties agree in principle, on issues such as nuclear power, the Social Democrats are far more pragmatic. Recognizing Germany's energy needs, they commit themselves vaguely to shutting down nuclear plants "as soon as possible." The Greens say right away.


On one point Schroder was emphatic: Drawing the Greens into government would not compromise any of the Social Democrats' center-left policies and campaign pledges. "The Greens are going to have to prepare for a clear and tough round of talks," he said.


The Social Democrats will try to reach agreement with the Greens within 30 days. Germany's constitution gives no deadline for forming a government, but the new parliament must convene by Oct. 27. The parliament will then elect a chancellor, in this case Schroder, who will in turn designate his Cabinet and a coalition.


The Kohl government remains as a caretaker until the new parliament convenes.


The SPD won 40.9 percent of the vote to become the largest party in the next parliament. Together with the Greens, who claimed 6.7 percent, they would command a majority of 21 seats, according to preliminary official results.


The CDU took 35.2 percent, and their liberal allies the Free Democrats won 6.2 percent.


Schroder also called for reform of the international financial markets.


"For the new government, strengthening international cooperation to fight speculative activity on financial markets will be a top priority," Schroder said.


SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine, a left-winger with a firm grip on the party machinery, is a favorite to become finance minister. He suggested Monday that interest rate cuts in Europe would be the right way to fight unemployment.


"An interest rate cut would be right, and we have long called for it," said Lafontaine, who was sitting beside Schroder.


"But the question is why in Europe, with such high unemployment, the central banks have not been able to agree on such a step. ? We see the American monetary policy here as exemplary," Lafontaine added.


Schroder, who said fighting record unemployment of more than 4 million was his top priority, did not detail how he would curb turbulent markets. But he said he backed proposals by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac on reforming the global finance system to prevent crisis.