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German conservatives fail to win over Greens for new government

BERLIN -- Germany's Greens rejected coalition talks with opposition leader Angela Merkel yesterday, leaving conservatives with only Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party as an awkward partner for a new government.

The failure raised the pressure on Merkel and Schroeder to resolve their rival claims to the chancellorship and end the political drift threatening Europe's most populous country, just as it grapples with economic stagnation and mass unemployment.

Fronted by Merkel, the conservatives defeated Schroeder's Social Democrats in the parliamentary vote Sept. 18. But they fell short of a majority for her program of accelerated economic reforms.

Merkel, head of the Christian Democratic Union, held talks yesterday with leaders of the Greens to sound out whether they could ally with her and the pro-business Free Democrats.

But the Greens -- junior partners in Schroeder's outgoing government coalition -- killed speculation they could lurch to the right, shunning Merkel's invitation to in-depth talks because of disagreements on policy issues.

''The differences are very big," Merkel said after the talks near the Reichstag parliament building. ''I would have liked to have spoken more in detail about where we overlap, but the Greens have a different wish."

Green party co-chairman Reinhard Buetikofer said he challenged Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, leader of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, to explain whether they would drop their ''neo-liberal, radical market, anti-ecological policies."

''Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Stoiber didn't give us the answer, and on that basis we said we see no possibility to recommend further talks," Buetikofer said.

Green party leaders have cited Merkel's plans to keep German nuclear power stations open longer and her rejection of Turkish membership in the European Union as major stumbling blocks.

Just as the Greens are resisting the advances of the conservatives, so the Free Democrats have snubbed overtures from Schroeder's party.

With both Merkel and Schroeder ruling out a minority government, many observers believe a ''grand coalition" of their two parties will emerge after weeks of wrangling.

The two held brief initial talks Thursday and agreed to meet again next week.

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