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Germany

Controversial Premier of Hesse to Continue in Office

A minority government headed by incumbent Premier Roland Koch took office in the western German state of Hesse Saturday after elections ten weeks ago failed to produce a clear winner.

Hesse premier Roland Koch

Koch will continue as acting premier for now

In the January 27 poll, Koch's Christian Democrats (CDU) secured 42 seats in the 110-member state legislature in Wiesbaden, the same number as the Social Democrats (SPD), headed by Andrea Ypsilanti.

Neither party was able to form an alliance with their preferred partners, the Free Democrats (FDP) for the CDU and the Greens and Left Party for the SPD.

At Saturday's opening session of the new parliament, none of the five parties presented a candidate to challenge Koch, allowing him to continue as acting premier.

Koch ran a divisive election campaign highlighting crimes committed by foreign youth. He seized on a violent attack on a German pensioner by two young immigrants on a Munich subway train to call for the deportation of "criminal foreigners" and urge an end to "multicultural" coddling of immigrants. His comments sparked an outcry among left-wing politicians and immigrant groups and fuelled a heated debate on juvenile crime

He is now expected to try and persuade the Greens to join him in a coalition at a later stage.

In his opening speech to parliament, the CDU leader promised an "open door" style of leadership in which all the parties would be regularly informed of the work of his government.

SPD in disarray

Andrea Ypsilanti

Ypsilanti's proposed deal with the Left Party proved her undoing

Ypsilanti withdrew her candidacy for the premiership last month after an SPD deputy refused to back her plan for a deal with the Left Party. The SPD leader had sought the support of the Left Party to tolerate a coalition with the Greens. The Greens won 9 seats in the elections, the FDP 11 and the Left 6.

The rise of the Left, a far-left grouping which emerged from a merger of a Social Democratic splinter group and the successor party to the former East German communists, has shaken up the German political scene, forcing the main parties to seek arrangements with smaller parties they had previously kept at arm's length.

In the city-state of Hamburg, where the Left won parliamentary representation on February 24, the CDU is negotiating to form a coalition with the Greens in what would be the first of its kind in Germany.

At federal level, Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU heads a "grand coalition" with the SPD. The two parties will face off in elections due in September 2009.

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