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German Parties Slowly Move Toward Grand Coalition

Top politicians on both sides of Germany's political standoff agreed Tuesday a bipartisan "grand coalition" linking Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and challenger Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats would be the best way out of the post-election muddle.

They disagreed on who should be chancellor.

"The needle is oscillating more toward a grand coalition under the leadership of Schroeder," Interior Minister Otto Schily (search), a Social Democrat, said in an interview published Tuesday in Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Guenther Beckstein, interior minister in the state of Bavaria and a member of the Christian Social Union (search), the Christian Democrats' sister party, also said the union of main parties was the way forward — but with Merkel at the helm as Germany's first female leader.

"For me, the given result must be a grand coalition under the leadership of Mrs. Merkel," said Beckstein, a possible member of a Merkel Cabinet.

Voters ousted Schroeder's ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens on Sunday but withheld a majority from Merkel's party and its partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (search). The result has been a confused scramble for power.

Christian Democrats and Social Democrats will meet for coalition talks Thursday, officials for Schroeder's party said.

Merkel moved to shore up support ahead of the talks, asking the Christian Democrats to re-elect her as their leader in parliament.

At one point in her campaign, Merkel led polls by up to 20 points, but her party finished with 35.2 percent. The Social Democrats claimed 34.3 percent.

Other coalition possibilities included the so-called "Jamaica" coalition of socially conservative Christian Democrats and fiscally liberal Free Democrats, plus the environmentalist Greens, who line up left of center. Its name comes from the parties' colors — black, green and yellow — which match the Jamaican flag.

Bild, the country's biggest newspaper, put a photo montage of Merkel, Greens Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (search) and Free Democrats leader Guido Westerwelle (search) in dreadlocks on its front page. "Is the Jamaica Coalition Coming?" it asked.

Another possibility is an all-left coalition between Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party, made up of renegade Social Democrats unhappy with Schroeder's pro-business reforms and former East German communists. Both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats have said they would not approach the Left Party.

A top labor leader, IG Metall industrial union head Juergen Peters, endorsed Schroeder's bid to remain chancellor after seven years and expressed support for an all-left government, but conceded that might be unrealistic.