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Merkel's conservatives plan third round of talks with SPD

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party has planned to meet with the main opposition Social Democrats for a third time as they look to form a coalition government. Marathon talks Monday yielded no concrete results.

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Lange Sondierung in Berlin

After an eight-hour second round of negotiations, Herman Gröhe, the deputy leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), told reporters early Tuesday that they "protectively" agreed to meet with the Social Democrats (SPD) again on Thursday.

"It's conceivable that we will meet again for more talks on Thursday at midday," Gröhe said.

Monday's meeting was described as "very intensive" by Gröhe, but he added that they had not yet reached anything substantive in terms of forming a new government.

Merkel is currently looking to form a coalition in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, after her party fell just short of an absolute majority in the September election. The SPD are the likely candidates, but the party appears reluctant to revive the 2005-2009 "grand coalition" government. After the last time they were part of such an alliance, the SPD recorded its worst post-war election result.

Should the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), formally pursue an alliance with the SPD, the SPD would decide at a party conference on Sunday whether to accept the offer of coalition negotiations.

Tuesday talks with Greens

A third round of talks with the SPD, however, will depend on the outcome of a meeting with the pro-environment Greens, scheduled for Tuesday.

"[The conservatives] have further exploratory talks with the Greens [Tuesday] and then we'll see what the situation is," SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles said. "We then envisage - though it is only one option - an appointment on Thursday for possible further discussions."

Nahles added that Monday's talks had brought "more clarity" to key issues dividing the parties, including the question of a national minimum wage - something the SPD has made a precondition for coalition negotiations. The CDU/CSU rejects this, as well as SPD demands for higher income taxes on the wealthy.

An opinion poll by state broadcaster ARD last week showed 66 per cent of respondents supporting a grand coalition government. A coalition with the SPD would not only provide Merkel with a majority in the Bundestag, but would also strengthen her hand in the Bundesrat, the upper house, which is at present controlled by the opposition parties.

dr/jr (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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