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German Chancellor Calls for Early Election after Key Defeat

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has called for early national elections a year ahead of schedule, following his party's defeat Sunday in a key state election.

Mr. Schroeder made the surprise announcement just hours after his Social Democratic Party suffered a loss by about seven percentage points in North Rhine-Westphalia state to the opposition conservative Christian Democrats. The defeat ends 39 years of Social Democrat dominance in Germany's most populous state.

Analysts say Mr. Schroeder's popularity has plunged since his 2002 reelection due to rising unemployment, and unpopular social welfare reforms.

Christian Democratic leader Angela Merkel, Mr. Schroeder's likely challenger, welcomed the call for early elections.

Germany holds national parliamentary elections every four years. The lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, must approve any early elections.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP, Reuters.