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After victory, Merkel to form new government

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel won a stunning victory in Germany's elections, but she still faces the delicate work of forming a coalition government. She and top party officials were meeting Monday to talk strategy about reaching out to the center-left rivals they need to form a government.

Merkel's Union bloc scored its best result in 23 years Sunday to put her on course for a third term, winning 41.5 percent of the vote and finishing only five seats short of an absolute majority in the lower house. However, Merkel's coalition partner crashed out of Parliament.

Merkel looks likely to end up leading either a "grand coalition" government with the center-left Social Democrats of defeated challenger Peer Steinbrueck — reviving the alliance that ran Germany in her first term — or, less likely, with the environmentalist Greens.

"We have two possibilities: the Social Democrats or the Greens," Volker Kauder, the leader of her party's parliamentary group, told ARD public Television. "We will determine in our committees how the talks should go."

"We will provide our country with a strong government," Kauer added before heading into the talks.

Merkel coalition partners in the last government, the pro-business Free Democrats, won only 4.8 percent of the vote. They fell short of the 5 percent needed to win seats in Parliament for the first time in Germany's post-World War II history, paying the price for frequent governing infighting and their failure to secure tax cuts they pledged before going into government four years ago.

Olaf Scholz, a top official of the Social Democrats, who were also meeting for talks about future possible government coalitions, did not want to express outright support for a "grand coalition" at this point.

"We don't know what the chancellor will do at this point," Kauder said. "She has the mandate to build a new government."

Several weeks of negotiations are expected, whether Merkel forms a coalition with the Social Democrats or the Greens.

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