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Schroeder wins key confidence vote

Schroeder: Has emerged from the vote a stronger leader  

BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder narrowly survived a confidence vote on Friday on his decision to send 3,900 troops to support the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Schroeder won the vote in the Bundestag by 336 to 326, two votes more than the 334 required for victory in the 666-seat chamber.

The victory, which brought him a standing ovation, was seen as a boost for his leadership and vindicates his decision to gamble on quelling dissent in his Social Democrats-Green Party coalition.

Late on Thursday the vote had looked on a knife-edge and behind-the-scenes overnight talks took place try and persuade rebels in the government coalition.

CNN's Bettina Luscher: The move paid off for Schroeder
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Q&A: Crucial vote 

If he had lost the vote, Schroeder would almost certainly have asked the president for a dissolution of parliament, provoking early elections.

In the end, CNN's Bettina Luscher reported, just four Green Party members voted against knowing from the figures they could express their opposition without bringing the government down.

With some pacifists in his coalition stubbornly against Germany's largest foray outside Europe since World War II, Schroeder had opted for the confidence vote -- only the fourth in postwar Germany -- rather than accepting approval of the deployment on the strength of opposition support.

"Today's decision on the military deployment will certainly be a turning point: for the first time soldiers will be readied for armed deployment outside the NATO region," Schroeder told the Bundestag in an emotional appeal for suppport..

"For a decision of such consequences, it is absolutely necessary that the chancellor and the government relies on a majority from their own coalition."

"The military aspect of the struggle cannot be ignored," Schroeder said.

"We've always emphasised that we do not attach importance exclusively to military measures, but there are situations in which a political solution which everyone wants has to be prepared militarily and enforced and put through."

As evidence of the importance military strikes have played in Afghanistan so far, Schroeder cited the freeing of eight Western aid workers with the German group Shelter Now International.

German peacekeepers in Bosnia
Since WWII German forces have only had limited roles on foreign soil  

The four Germans, two Americans and two Australians were freed on Thursday after more than three months in Taliban custody.

Schroeder looked almost certain to pull through earlier in the day when Greens deputy Winfried Hermann said that four of an initial group of eight rebels had backed down.

But the opposition vowed to vote against rather than support the chancellor. They complained the chancellor's gamble has harmed Germany's image abroad.

"You are playing thoughtlessly with foreign policy because you cannot manage your domestic policies, in a last-ditch effort to save your government," the conservative Christian Democrats' parliamentary leader, Friedrich Merz, said. "Such a chancellor doesn't deserve trust."

The crisis was sparked by Germany's constitutional requirement for putting troop deloyments to the vote in parliament -- a legacy of its militaristic past.

As about 60 anti-war protesters demonstrated outside, Greens leaders made impassioned pleas to lawmakers to back Schroeder.

"The decision as to whether this government wins is a decision on the future of this country -- whether we can continue the ecological and social renewal of this country," Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said. "Germany needs this policy."

Schroeder's victory should assure his coalition survives until elections next autumn.

Luscher says the chancellor successfully called the bluff of the dissenters and has emerged since September 11 looking a stronger leader.

He has pledged that Germany, Europe's largest economy, is ready to take on a bigger role in world politics after decades on the sidelines following World War Two, and is riding high in opinion polls with 70 percent approval ratings.

Senior Greens had urged members not to put at risk a three-year alliance that forced through major Green policies -- phasing out nuclear power, energy tax hikes and same-sex marriages.

Luscher says the Greens emerged weaker from the encounter. They have already lost support in a series of state elections as they made uncomfortable decisions over military operations and the gradual phaseout of nuclear power.

An opinion poll published by ZDF television said 59 percent of Germans supported military action.

CNN Berlin Bureau Chief Bettina Luscher contributed to this report


• German Federal Government

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