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Germany

Free Democrats Re-Elect Leader

Germany's Free Democrats, in the political wilderness since 1998 after decades of shoring up coalition governments, voted Thursday by a large majority to re-elect their leader Guido Westerwelle. He immediately called for an end to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, saying their time was over. Westerwelle, 43, was the only candidate as he stood for a third term as FDP president, and won with 80 percent of the vote. The FDP traditionally plays the kingmaker role in German government, adding its five to 10 percent of the national vote to either the Christian Democrats (CDU) or the Social Democrats (SPD). But the Green Party emerged to usurp their position in 1998 by striking up the so-called red-green coalition with Schroeder's SPD. "The red-green coalition is a historical error," Westerwelle said. "We are the key to power changing hands," he went on, looking ahead to the legislative elections in September 2006 for which it hopes to form an alliance with the CDU and "put an end to the red-green coalition before it puts an end to our country." Current opinion polls suggest a CDU-FDP coalition would crush the SPD-Green version if an election was held now. The polls put the CDU on 48 percent, the SPD on 30, the Greens on 9 and the FDP on 6 percent.

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