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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Political Hurdles Await Newly Elected Schroeder

BERLIN -- Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats held onto power in Germany's closest postwar election, but the chancellor will face tougher opposition at home and the task of rebuilding ties with the United States after a campaign that angered Washington.

Schroeder secured another four years for his coalition with the Greens party in Sunday's vote, handing Europe's dwindling left another boost a week after the Social Democrats triumphed in Sweden.

But he will have to tackle problems such as chronic unemployment and slow economic growth and confront strains in the country's generous welfare state with a slender majority that opponents said will not hold.

Official results released early Monday showed the Social Democrats and Greens won a combined 47.1 percent of the vote for the lower house, or Bundestag. Opposition parties led by resurgent conservatives under Edmund Stoiber totaled 45.9 percent. That gave the Social Democrats and Greens 306 seats in the new 603-seat parliament, compared to 295 for conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats. Reformed communists won the other two seats.

The Greens were exuberant after their best showing in their 22-year history -- 8.6 percent. But Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer declined to say whether the Greens would demand another ministerial position.

"One must be modest in victory," he said.

Schroeder said he would swiftly begin negotiations with the Greens on a coalition pact laying out the government's agenda for the next four years, a task expected to take several weeks.

Chastened by his razor-thin defeat, the conservative challenger again accused the chancellor of whipping up emotions against the United States for electoral gain.

"What I criticize above all is that [Schroeder] opened the floodgates for anti-American tones," Stoiber said on German television, calling the crisis with the United States "the most devastating of the last 50 years."

Schroeder's outspoken defiance against war with Iraq was credited with giving him a late push in a tight campaign, and he said he had no intention of backing down.

The rhetoric reached a damaging peak in the final days of his campaign when Justice Minister Herta D?ubler-Gmelin was reported to have compared U.S. President George W. Bush to Hitler for threatening war to distract from domestic problems. She denied saying it.

Schroeder may have won, but his failure to deliver on a promise to reduce unemployment eroded support for the Social Democrats, which slid 2.4 percentage points from 1998's 40.9 percent result.

Stoiber's platform focusing on the economy boosted the conservatives to 38.5 percent, up from 35 percent four years ago. The results indicate they have put behind them a campaign financing scandal that had engulfed the Christian Democrats and their former leader, Helmut Kohl.

Schroeder said Monday that Justice Minister D?ubler-Gmelin would step aside, Reuters reported. Schroeder said that D?ubler-Gmelin had told the leaders of the Social Democratic Party meeting Monday that she would not seek another term as minister.