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Merkel Sworn in As Germany's First Female Chancellor

Angela Merkel has been sworn in as Germany's first female chancellor after being formally elected by the lower house of the country's parliament, the Bundestag. Ms. Merkel is also the first chancellor from the former communist East Germany.

After two months of political uncertainty and backroom negotiations, the Bundestag finally gave Angela Merkel the majority she needed to become Germany's head of government. After securing 397 votes in the 614-seat body, Ms. Merkel's election was confirmed by Bundestag president Norbert Lammert.

"Therefore, we hereby announce that the member of parliament, Doctor Angela Merkel, has won the majority of votes needed to become the first woman chancellor of Germany," he announced.

But the new chancellor faces tough challenges. After failing to win a clear majority in the elections in September, she was forced to form a so-called "grand coalition" of left and right between her conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, on the one hand, and former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's left-of-center Social Democrats on the other.

And she had to pay a heavy price for Social Democratic support, giving the rival party key ministries, such as foreign affairs and finance, as well as toning down her pledges to revive Germany's moribund economy through tough reform measures.

Still, some analysts, like Constanze Stetzenmueller, of the German Marshall Fund, are hailing the news as being good for women and good for people in Germany's eastern region.

"She's the first woman to become Germany's chancellor, thus a historic figure. She's the first East German to become our chancellor. And she is also the youngest chancellor ever at 51," said Ms. Stetzenmueller.

The daughter of a Protestant pastor, Angela Merkel studied physics in communist East Germany and only entered politics after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. For years, she has had her sights on the chancellor's job and has now fulfilled her dream. Her biographer, Gerd Langguth, says he hopes she can become a symbol of a unified nation whose parts, in many ways, have still not become totally integrated.

"She's always saying I'm an all-German citizen now. But many in East Germany think she's a westerner, and many West Germans say she belongs to East Germany," said Mr. Langguth. "So it's really very difficult. But I think she can symbolize German unity."

Although Ms. Merkel's major challenges are economic, she has already indicated that she will make a few changes in emphasis and style in foreign policy, like strengthening Germany's ties to the United States after the two countries fell out over the Iraq War. But political scientist Lutz Erbring, at Berlin's Free University, points out that continuity is still the main goal.

"There's probably a continuing effort to improve relations with Washington, which has already been undertaken by the previous government after all, and there is some degree of, perhaps more skepticism, perhaps a cooling off of relations with Russia," explained Mr. Erbring.

In contrast to her predecessor, Mr. Schroeder, Ms. Merkel has let it be known that she supports continuing a European Union arms embargo on China. She is also skeptical about eventual Turkish membership in the European Union, saying it depends on the bloc's ability to digest the populous, relatively poor, mostly Muslim nation.