Merkel and center-left rivals agree to recommend entering formal talks on new German gov't

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc and the center-left Social Democratic Party she defeated in last month's election have moved a decisive step closer to forming a new government.

The German news agency dpa quoted SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday as saying the leadership of the party would recommend to members this weekend that it enter into formal coalition talks with Merkel's Union bloc.

The head of the Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, told reporters the talks could begin Wednesday — the day after Germany's new Parliament meets for the first time.

Merkel's bloc of the Christian Democrats and the Bavaria-only CSU won 41.5 percent of the vote in Sept. 22 elections but fell five seats short of a majority.

The Social Democrats won 25.7 percent of the vote.