BERLIN (AP) – Conservative challenger Angela Merkel won the most votes in German elections Sunday, according to official results, but fell short of a clear mandate to govern as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder staged a dramatic comeback and proclaimed that he should head the next government.

The outcome made it appear likely that Germany’s next government could be weakened as a result of the narrow vote margin and difficulties of forming a coalition.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats and ally party, the Christian Social Union, won 35.2 percent of the vote, compared with 34.3 percent for the Social Democrats. Schroeder’s coalition partner, the Greens, won 8.1 percent. The pro-business Free Democrats, with whom Merkel had hoped to form a center-right government, had 9.8 percent.

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